Opinion: The Gettysburg Quarantine Experience

By Lauren Browning, Contributing Writer

Needless to say, no one wants to get COVID. I am privileged to be young, healthy, and fully vaccinated, but, nevertheless, as soon as we arrived on campus in January I contracted the virus. For me, the symptoms were very mild in the beginning, with my chest feeling slightly funny and a runny nose, but neither of those were markedly out of the ordinary feelings for the gray winter weather. I felt these minor symptoms for three days and then, seemingly out of the blue, I had a 102-degree fever. That is when I took an at-home Covid test and it came back positive. At that point, I was on day three of the CDC’s recommended five-day quarantine, so I called the school to ask what I should do.

“We do not accept at-home test results so you will have to come in and test tomorrow. For the meantime stay in your room and stay masked.” It seemed like a silly and arbitrary answer, but I stayed overnight in my apartment and all my roommates and I went to get tested in the morning. Unsurprisingly, I tested positive, so the school began its process to place me in quarantine housing. At this point, I was on day four of five. When I got the call, I had less than 24 hours left in my isolation period. I live in Rochester, NY which is 297 miles away from here, or an almost six-hour drive. The rules dictate that anyone under 300 miles away must return home to quarantine. Fortunately, I was able to work with housing to stay in short term quarantine on campus instead of driving for 12 of the 20 hours remaining.

My room was in Colonial Hall, which was weird because my neighbors were not isolating students but regular residents. I am not sure how I would feel knowing that I lived on ground zero. The room itself was decent sized and clean, but the sheets did not fit the bed and there was no water provided. I emailed and asked for water and noted that the school might consider XL sheets to fit their XL mattresses, but they assured me that “students have shared that the sheets are too small in the past, but we have found that they do fit on the bed.” I did have a case of water delivered but I did not opt to have the school’s food based on its reputation. The vacuum-sealed mac and cheese did not sound appealing, and in the past, dining services have been unable to work around my allergies.

The next morning when I was supposed to leave, I reported I still had a fever and various other lingering symptoms that I felt made me a risk to return to campus, so I stayed another day. I do respect the challenges that COVID presents to Gettysburg College, both financially and logistically, and I want to feel sympathy towards their situation. The numerous moving factors must be dizzying when attempting to coordinate efforts, and naturally, things get lost, but other institutions also have to deal with these challenges, and almost two years into the pandemic I would hope that there would be some universal clarity.

Some of the rules surrounding COVID on this campus seem arbitrary. The College does not require us to quarantine the entire length of the fifth day and can leave as soon as we wake up, and without the honor system, it is possible to still be symptomatic on campus. Upon return, we will not be tested for 90 days after our positive test. The school claims that this is because the test will return positive but rapid antigen tests rarely have trailing positives. The test itself is only 85% effective so many of the cases go under the radar.

If those 90 days are part of our “hybrid immunity” period where we are unlikely to get infected or to infect others, why do we still have to wear masks in the designated areas? We aren’t getting tested, therefore it is assumed we are not a risk, and we cannot carry or transmit the disease, so why are masks still enforced? While I do not mind masking one way or the other, the policies do not coincide. Why are some areas deemed high transmissibility zones while others are not? The school designated Bullet seating closed for the first week of school, but it was perfectly safe to eat 10 meters over in commons. 

The College did just relax their masking and testing policies to reflect the decreasing positive tests on campus. Perhaps I should just say I am thankful that I can spend my last semester on campus, as I am, but it does not mitigate my frustrations with the opacity of the College policies.

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Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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