Most Duke students consider notice of a positive COVID-19 test result to be enough bad news for the day. But for many students who contracted the virus in the past week, a positive test result was only the first step in a chaotic, bewildering journey from dorm room to isolation.
Several students who tested positive for COVID-19 described troubling delays in the response from Student Health and the Pandemic Support Unit. Some waited hours after their test result before receiving a call. Others were told they were positive for the virus but weren’t contacted about being taken to quarantine and had to reach out to Student Health on their own. Some who tested positive were told they had to stay in their dorm rooms for the night because Student Health was too busy or there weren’t enough time slots for a van to pick them up that day.
Student Health and the Pandemic Support Unit have not yet responded to requests for comment.
‘Your roommate probably has COVID anyways’
One sophomore, who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of repercussions from University administration, said he received notice from Student Health that he had tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
“They’re like, ‘Pack your things for a week, you should be leaving in an hour or an hour and a half, and [the Pandemic Support Unit will] call you and contact you when you’ll be picked up.’ So, I go and do that but three hours pass and no one called me,” he said.
He called Student Health and was put on hold for 30 minutes. When he was able to get in touch with a representative around 6:30 p.m., the person told him that Student Health was too busy to transfer him and that he should stay in the dorm at night. They would call him in the morning to pick him up, the representative said.
He talked to the representative about his concerns about staying overnight in a dorm with a roommate and a shared bathroom.
“She was just like, ‘Sorry, we’re super swamped. Your roommate probably has COVID anyways. Try to keep a precautionary six feet distance if you can and sanitize well after you go to the bathroom,’” he said.
The student asked if there were any weekend COVID-19 testing options so that his roommate could get tested.
“And she was just like, ‘Hm, not really. You could get a test at Duke Health Center, but it wouldn’t be a rapid test, so you might as well wait until Monday,’” he said.
The student wore a mask to bed that night. On Sunday morning, he received a call from a Pandemic Support Unit representative, who was shocked that the student had not yet been moved to isolation. She told him that she would tell her supervisor to contact Student Health and told him to await a call from Student Health.
Hours later, Student Health still had not called him.
“So I go and call Student Health again. And finally one person just said, ‘Oh, go take [the] shuttle that leaves every half hour from Wannamaker Dorm Lane,’” he said. “It took five calls for Student Health to tell me that? By then I knowingly had COVID and stayed in my dorm for 27 hours or something like that.”
When he arrived at The Lodge, he finally received a call from Student Health instructing him about how he was supposed to be transferred to isolation. He said the person who called him was surprised to learn he had already been transferred to The Lodge. On Sunday at 7:00 p.m., he received an email providing instructions about his isolation period.
“If I'm experiencing this, probably other people have had the same experience, which means there are other people who knowingly had COVID and then stayed at Duke for a day or more, which kind of breaks the whole point of trying to put people in isolation quickly,” he said.
‘We don't have enough slots tonight to pick people up’
Junior Evan Dragich received an email Tuesday at 6:07 p.m. notifying him of updates to his MyChart. Dragich logged into his account, saw the positive coronavirus result and immediately reached out to everyone in his Tuesday evening meetings to let them know of his positive test.
At 7:12 p.m., Dragich received a call from Student Health, where he was notified that he would be picked up Wednesday morning.
“[Student Health said]...‘We don’t have enough slots tonight to pick people up,’” he said.
Dragich, who lives in the Hollows, texted his roommates as soon as he got the call and stayed in his suite overnight with a mask on.
On Wednesday at 10:37 a.m., the Pandemic Response Unit called to arrange his pick up. Around noon, Dragich was taken to Lancaster Apartments, an off-campus apartment complex being used for isolation housing.
“Since I’ve been asymptomatic and [am] vaccinated, I’m lucky that this is just a hassle for me...I know not everyone is that lucky,” he said.
“It just kind of pisses me off that Duke has such a facade that they put on to the public of how progressive and proactive that they are with all this COVID stuff,” one student quarantined in Lancaster Commons said. The student—a senior and resident assistant—asked to remain anonymous out of fear of repercussions from University administration.
“Actually going through it, it seems to be more for the optics than it is actually taking care of the students,” he said.
‘Could be today or tomorrow’
The RA said he took a surveillance test last Tuesday, Aug. 24, and received an automated email on Wednesday late afternoon from his MyChart account notifying him that his account had been updated. When he logged into the account, he saw that he had tested positive. Since he was in a meeting at The Loop at the time, he quickly left and stood outside.
“I’m kind of just standing on Towerview Road ... and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know if I’m supposed to go back to my room because I don’t want to put anyone in danger if I’m positive,’” he said.
The RA called his Residence Coordinator, who told him to return to his room and to stay there until Student Health contacted him. He was asymptomatic at the time.
“So then I kind of just sat in my room,” he said.
The email announcing the positive result had arrived at 5:11 p.m., and the RA waited until about 6:00 p.m. before deciding to call the Student Health COVID-19 hotline.
When he called, he was put on hold for the next hour and fifteen minutes.
“I finally got patched through to someone, and they said, ‘Yeah, we’re kind of going down the line trying to send people and stuff, but you should be getting an email pretty soon.’ I was like, ‘Okay, well am I going to be moved today?’ She’s like, ‘I don’t really know, could be today or tomorrow.’”
That night, he had a friend bring him food. Around 11:30 p.m., he received an automated email from the Pandemic Response Unit that provided packing instructions.
The next morning at around 11:30 a.m., he received a call from a Pandemic Support Unit specialist as well as an email from the unit that provided details on where he would be transported to and a comprehensive list of instructions about his time in isolation. He was picked up at around 1:45 p.m. on Thursday.
“I don’t know how long it would have taken if I didn’t call them, because by calling them, I put my name basically to the top of the list. ... If I didn’t call, I don’t know how long it would have taken,” he said.
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Preetha Ramachandran is a Trinity senior and diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator for The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously senior editor for Volume 117.
Chris Kuo is a Trinity senior and a staff reporter for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously enterprise editor for Volume 117.