COVID-19 positive: two words we learned to fear over the past 19 months. Words that breathe to life death and disease and destruction not only around us but within us. Words we take precautions against, armoring ourselves with masks, hand sanitizer, vaccinations and the like. These words define every detail of our existence, of our day-to-day, to the point that many of us are so empathetically drained and weary that we can hardly bring ourselves to look at the words. We want to move on, we want happy stories, we want normalcy — another word ringing in the backs of our minds like a cruel taunt. But as it is now, such things are out of our grasp. So we still fear those two reality-shattering words, hoping they do not appear on our own test results, impacting our own lives. Those words have creeped onto my records, forced me into solitude, twice in the past nine months.
The first time I tested positive for COVID-19 was in January, before I was eligible for vaccination. It was only my second week back on campus after winter break and hearing the explanation cautiously leave the pharmacist’s masked lips filled me with an electric disbelief. I couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t fathom what I was hearing. I was given instructions and time to pack. I dashed to my dorm, madly threw a tornado of belongings into a suitcase and two bags. Within two hours, I was in Van Campen Hall beginning my isolation period.
On September 29, I tested positive for COVID-19 for a second time despite being fully vaccinated. Feeling cold-like symptoms, I figured it was best to be sure of my status for the safety of myself and my classmates, especially given the Homecoming festivities surrounding me. I didn’t actually expect to test positive. This time I knew the process, but fearful of isolation, I was filled with a drowning sense of hopelessness and anger. Nevertheless, within a few hours, I was in Centennial Court E, starting yet another isolation period at Kent State.
Overall, the changes made between isolation protocols from spring 2021 and fall 2021 were an improvement — although, I was grateful to the COVID Response Team for their kindness and thoughtfulness in each circumstance.
To describe what actually went down in each of my experiences in complete solitude, I’ll start with my experience in spring 2021. Being in Van Campen felt like a downgrade from living in Stopher-Johnson all year, and I immediately realized I forgot shower shoes, though Kent State’s provided packing list reminded me of everything else. The room was small and a little cold, but I was given fleece blankets, sheets, towels and a pillow to keep me warm. Additionally, upon arriving in my room, I was greeted with a drawstring bag of goodies! Some of the standout items in this group included a Flashes Take Care of Flashes puzzle, a handwritten letter from President Diacon, a stress ball and two Kent State masks to add to my collection, all of which certainly went to good use. Additionally, the room was stocked with water bottles, Gatorade, individual bags of Miss Vickie’s chips and granola bars. For general meals, I was allowed to leave my room, meander down to the first floor lobby and grab a to-go box and accompanying paper bag filled with food. They were even careful to accommodate my allergies, and any mail I received would be transferred to this room as well.
This process was tweaked for fall 2021. For starters, CCE was a larger space with a more easily adjustable temperature that stopped me from freezing. Additionally, my room included its own bathroom and sink — a welcome change after my floor bathroom experience. This time, I did not receive a goodie bag from the COVID Response Team, which was a little sad, but it in no way impeded my experience. Rather than looking out the window at the ice arena where I tested positive, CCE looked out into a patch of trees where squirrels and chipmunks often ran past — however, a word of advice: please do not walk through this woodsy area directly next to the first floor windows at nighttime; it’s terrifying for those inside.
The main difference between this time and last: the food process. Instead of delivering food at each meal time, Kent State allowed me to pick a grocery plan from three options, where they would accommodate any allergies or dietary restrictions if necessary. Some of my favorite items from this grocery delivery included sandwich materials, frozen chicken pot pies, mashed potatoes, yogurt, nutri-grain bars, fruit cups and tea bags. I was a fan of this grocery change since it meant that I didn’t need to worry about the time of day or if my food might have gotten cold on the drive over. However, it had its drawbacks in that I had even less structure to my day and now had no appropriate reason to even step into the hallway, but I recognize that no system is perfect.
Isolation was a lonely time. It’s funny to me how so many people will check in when they know you have COVID-19 but how you still feel completely alienated, separated, alone. I only went a total of one day without talking to a family member or friend on the phone during both isolation experiences, and I started questioning my own existence. I already talk to myself regularly when I’m alone, but I would be having full-on conversations with myself at every waking moment — something me and myself recognized as being perhaps a smidge odd.
To those who ask, I tend to describe the isolation dorms as a prison-hospital hybrid: you cannot leave, but you’re also a contaminant not to be put into contact with people. Finally, I know how it feels to live in the zombie apocalypse or during the Bubonic plague. I know how Eden felt in “Legend” or how Eleven felt in “Stranger Things.” Of course, I’m taking the opportunity to be dramatic, but all trash used within my isolation periods needed to be disposed of in bright red biohazard bags that made me feel otherwise.
More than anything else, the experience was as easy as it could possibly be because of the care the university took to handle it delicately. Everyone I spoke to on the phone was caring and compassionate, patient with my questions and concerns, immensely helpful with solutions. They scheduled my transportation in and out of isolation, they made sure I knew when food would be delivered/where to pick snacks up in the meantime, etc. Honestly, I feel like Kent State thought of everything that could be a concern in the situation and did something to amend it — I didn’t encounter a single problem the university couldn’t help me with when I stayed in isolation.
Now having my freedom returned to me, I look back at isolation as an important time of growth for myself. Life is stressful, especially when juggling classes in the midst of everything else. Being isolated with COVID-19 is obviously not the ideal way to realize that you need to step back and refocus your priorities, but that was what it served as for me. I was going through the motions, getting overwhelmed, and I was forgetting what mattered: experiencing life. Check in with your loved ones, go to that concert, take that road trip, approach that person, because your life is too short to get caught in a whirlwind of due dates and stressors. Take care of what you need to take care of, but remember that your wellbeing is the priority.
And more importantly than anything else, get vaccinated! The university may take care of you when you’re infected, but you cannot anticipate how your body will react to the virus — I was fortunate that I had the vaccine to lessen my symptoms. On-campus isolation is nice all things considered, but I hardly think that a small, empty room is the last sight your eyes should wish to behold.
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Hi, I’m Holly Liptak, a senior journalism student from Akron and the editor-in-chief of The Burr this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you interesting, humorous and hard-hitting stories that tap into current events, trends and the lives of those who have made a home in Kent, Ohio. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.