Op-Eds Opinion

Arena: Stay positive and test negative

Robyn Arena
@robyn.arena24

You never think that a job devoted to helping others and creating community could put you at risk for a deadly virus.

Of course with the challenges 2020 has brought to us, campus has been forced to undergo many changes. This is my second year as a resident assistant living in the largest first-year residence hall on campus, Gulick Hall. Last year, the Gulick staff faced many challenging events that took a toll on our mental health including the tragic passing of a fellow student, Connor Neshe. I thought it couldn’t get much worse than that.

As the COVID regulations changed, RA duties became less of creating community and seeming more of being the “mask police”. The Gulick staff knew we would have the most challenging hall, as its reputation of chaos was a major worry in the realm of COVID. Personally, I vowed to enforce such rules while focusing mainly on creating a safe environment and still remaining a friend to talk to.

My floor, 2C, grew closer and actually took over the hall election; we held a place on all four positions. Things were looking up for 2C, right up until I received a phone call. I was sitting at the PE Complex desk on October 21, acting as a supervisor for the Wellness Center staff when the health center contact tracing team called me. I was named as a direct contact to a positive case of COVID.

So many questions rushed through my head about who it could be and how this had happened, especially while I was being so safe. These questions were answered when I returned to my floor to find that two-thirds of my residents were also being moved to quarantine housing; the positive case lived only a few doors down from my room. My floor’s new motto was “stay positive and test negative” as 2C’s optimism never fell. We were all separated, some went home and a lot of us stayed on campus and relocated to quarantine housing. I moved to the basement of Lakeside.

I completely understood the measures that had to be taken to keep the rest of the community safe, but it felt like a dungeon. I had never felt more isolated in my empty new room next to only seven other people in the same position. I began to document my experiences using TikTok and, wow, did I have a lot of funny ideas! My friends were able to visit me outside and even delivered me coffee and food, but it never took away the complete sense of loneliness. I was reassured that I was now a student only and my RA duties have halted, but I couldn’t help but feel my job had just started. I facilitated group FaceTime calls with students on my floor that had now been separated, and even helped someone in quarantine with me to get a room change. I was now known as the RA of quarantine.

It had been seven days in Lakeside when I received my third negative test since my quarantine started. I had been reassured by the health center that if I chose to finish the remainder of my quarantine at home, I would not need another test before returning to campus. I did just that, packed my bags and traveled four hours home to Vermont. I did not make this decision lightly; I was trying to bear the thought of potentially bringing COVID home to my family, but the move was necessary to preserve my mental health. I had continued my classes from home and my professors were super accommodating.

It was day 10 of quarantine when I began feeling overly tired and spiking a fever. I had only four days remaining in quarantine at this point; I was convinced it was just a cold, so I could hopefully return to campus. I got a test the following day at my local hospital clinic, but due to a cyberattack on Vermont’s hospital network I did not receive my result until November 3, an already-stressful day for the country.

My symptoms got better and my family, though quarantining with me, were in denial. At 11:00 p.m. on Election Day of all days, I received a call that changed everything. I had actually tested positive for COVID-19, the most feared and unknown virus in the country right now. I could not believe it, and felt so much guilt for bringing this home to my family. I received heartwarming messages from advisors, professors, and faculty on campus, but nothing could change the fact of the situation.

I remember the night of my initial exposure. I was walking through, 2C joking with some residents and just talking about life. Everyone was masked, and we were just enjoying our time together. No one could have guessed how much would change within the future 24 hours, but this is what it is like living in a pandemic. All I have to say is stay safe and follow the guidelines, because you never know when it can affect you.   

Photo: Robyn Arena

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