For many students, the biggest fear about coming back to campus this semester was the possibility of contracting COVID-19 and being forced to endure a 14-day quarantine. Most students were lucky and able to return to the safety of their homes or off-campus apartments when the university announced its temporary closure because of the rise in coronavirus cases.
But for the almost 1,500 students and teachers who were unfortunate enough to catch the virus, the four-week break has been far from relaxing. It’s been particularly challenging for on-campus students who’ve been forced to move to other dorms, follow a restricted meal plan and balance classes with their coronavirus symptoms and oppressive cabin fever.
Bethany Walsh, a sophomore media arts and design major, said she’d just moved into her Zeta Tau Alpha sorority house on Greek row when she caught the virus from her roommate.
“Going to school I was expecting to get it,” Walsh said. “Because I knew that living in a house with 28 other girls … it would spread like a wildfire. Once I found out that my roommate had it … it was just a waiting game.”
Walsh, who spent the first few days of her quarantine in her sorority house and the rest in an off-campus apartment, said that the process of moving and keeping up with schoolwork was the worst part of having COVID-19.
“Me and my friends [feel] like we aged like 10 years over literally a week,” Walsh said. “All of a sudden, we had to act really fast and move and [go] to Zoom classes. It was really difficult.”
Although Walsh said her professors were understanding and accommodating, she wasn’t the only one who struggled to keep up with her work.
Freshman computer and information sciences major Andrew Jordan said being stuck in his room in Chandler Hall was detrimental to his academic performance.
“It’s [really] distracting that I’m stuck in my room,” Jordan said. “Before, when everything was just online, I would go to a study space and do my work. But I’ve got an Xbox and a TV in my room — now I want to just be lazy and do nothing.”
Jordan said that academics weren’t the hardest part of his quarantine, however.
“The food sucks,” Jordan said. “It’s mainly refrigerated sandwiches and a few microwavable things … then a bunch of junk food. Last night I had my first hot meal in a week.”
Jordan said he tried to make suggestions to university dining about how to improve the food the students were getting, but he was told that since there were too many students in quarantine, hot meals couldn’t be delivered to everyone.
Gigi Gemma, a freshman international affairs major, said it wasn’t the meal plan that made her quarantine difficult, but being trapped alone in her room for 10 days made her “stir-crazy.”
“The first day I was like, ‘It’s fine I can do this,’” Gemma said. “But then … I just needed a change of scenery. Just knowing that I had to stay in my room was a lot.”
With parents living overseas and the mass exodus of students from her building, Gemma said she struggled with her mental and emotional health during quarantine as she had little social support.
“Everyone left, and I had to stay behind,” Gemma said. “All of the girls that I had bonded with [in my hall] for the past couple of weeks were gone in a day. It was a lot to not have family or friends [around].”
Jordan said he felt that getting the coronavirus had alienated him from his fellow students.
“I have this constant fear that people will look at me [like I’m horribly] sick or something,” Jordan said. “Like, ‘stay away from him, he’s dangerous.’”
Although none of their symptoms were severe and they’re all making speedy recoveries, Walsh, Jordan and Gemma all expressed frustrations about having gotten the coronavirus in the first place.
“At the beginning, when [the university] sent out all these emails talking about … what they were doing [to protect students], I was actually hopeful that it could work out,” Walsh said. “But then once I got to campus … I saw it was inevitable we would get it.”
Walsh and Gemma both cited the dining halls on campus as spots where they felt social distancing wasn’t enforced enough. Jordan sided with Walsh and Gemma, and said that he didn’t think the university had done enough to protect students.
With the university announcing that in-person classes will resume Oct. 5 and hundreds of students consequently moving back on campus, Walsh expressed concerns about students returning to JMU and potentially spreading the coronavirus again.
“I don’t think it’s smart for us to go back,” Walsh said. “I know they’re saying they’re changing all these things, but I feel like they’re always really optimistic. I’m just worried that they’re going to pull a fast one and [have] everyone come back and then [make us leave] two weeks later.”
Walsh said that regardless of whether or not she gets the coronavirus again, the process of moving and quarantining isn’t something she wants to redo.
“I’m stressing about coming back in October,” Walsh said. “I may have to move back [on campus], which I don’t want to do because it took so much effort to get [to my off-campus apartment.] I’m finally comfortable, and I don’t want to have to repeat this if I were to get COVID[-19] again.”
Regardless of how students feel about coming back to campus, Gemma said that it’s important to remember that this global crisis is an opportunity for growth and change.
“This whole year is just about … adapting and seeing what works, what doesn’t and moving on from that,” Gemma said. “Even if you feel awful about … catching the disease, or [about] what’s happening at JMU, we’re going to move forward and get through it. Everything will be fine."
Contact Alexandra Dauchess at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram @Breeze_Culture and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.