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Life in an Isolation House

By: Megan Allbrooks and Lydia Bermel


Students at St. Olaf are experiencing an unprecedented year as the school navigates the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the physical changes to campus, students are adjusting to social distancing policies, random testing and hybrid classes. In this series, The Messenger shares stories from Oles experiencing different aspects of the pandemic. 

Hermione Yim ’22 shares her experience living in an isolation house.


 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

 

Can you start by telling us your experience? What’s been going on?

I am a junior here, I am a studio art and piano performance major, and I am an international student from Hong Kong. After spending the summer on campus, I was tested before all the students came back and my test came back negative. After students returned to campus, I really didn’t leave my room, but I must have come into contact with someone because I got a positive result on my next test. That was a lot to process. I was not expecting this—I did not know what had happened. I had less than an hour to pack, and it was broad daylight so I thought, “What if people think I’m doing something wrong?” I was really self-conscious and embarrassed. Then a COVID officer picked me up and brought me to a house.

 

Have you shown any symptoms? Or did you just test positive? How long have you been in the house?

I got my second test on Aug. 20. I got the news on Saturday, at about 2 p.m. I moved in here at 4 p.m. So it’s been 5 days. So far I have a little bit of a headache and a sore throat, but not really [any other symptoms]. But I’ve been drinking a lot of water, so I think they’re tiny symptoms. 

 

What is the house like? How has it been set up?

When I moved into this house, I was the first person to get tested. 

The house is boiling hot, it has three stories and they put me in an attic room. They said we didn’t need bedding, but the bedding they have doesn’t fit the beds. And the window cannot be opened! 

If you say that you’re ready to move us into a house, the house is not ready. So there’s a lot of things that they haven’t figured out internally, which is my main concern.

And this should have been done before we moved in. Why didn’t anyone bother to check the environment before we moved in? But in the house nobody’s taking care of it, so it’s dusty, and there are bee hives so the window can’t be opened, and it’s super hot. So all of these things should have been done before coming in. 

 

Could you describe what the house is like, how you are getting meals, are you able to see people and logistics?

Meals are delivered to the house everyday around 2 p.m. Most deliveries just include lunch and dinner. Lunch is usually sandwiches, those tiny ones, almost like a bag lunch, and then with a bowl of salad. And then dinners are really nice, but they come in really small portions. And the breakfast—on the first day we moved in, they gave us all the breakfast food we could ever need, like some instant oats, some trail mix—like a continental breakfast. 

We’re always hungry. We called them, and like a couple days later, they have adjusted the portions a little bit. But it’s still pretty small.

 

Are you able to pick what you eat?

No. They ask you for dietary restrictions, like are you vegetarian, are you vegan, etc. But we don’t really get a choice.

 

How many other people are in the house with you?

I think there are 4 of us. 2 guys, 2 girls. 

 

Are you able to see each other and hang out?

We kind of do, yeah. In their email initially, they told us to just stay in our room, close the door, and don’t interact at all. But at the very beginning it was too hot, and each level up is hotter, right? So we all come down to the living room or basement so there’s enough room for us to spread out. They finally gave us AC ventilators, because like it’s not okay! You can’t expect us not to open a window! And not open doors! And like today, it’s like 33 degrees celsius today, it’s really hot. 

 

How is it going with mental health? Like is there support for you guys? Or are you just sort of left alone? 

There is usually one check-in email every day, and a check-in follow-up with each individual student, so that was a bit nice. So after a few days nothing was actually happening so I sort of calmed down. And I told my professors so they know what’s going on, for my part, but I know my friends who are here, sometimes we all struggle a bit and cry a bit, things like that. It’s pretty normal, I think is where we are at.

 

Before you found out you were positive, you’d been staying in your room and everything, what was your experience–because I’m assuming you had to talk with a contact tracer– like how was that process? What was that like?

It was actually pretty nice, like calming. Because I was literally freaking out. I waited half an hour for the contact tracer. And she was really nice to me, and she was asking me after I leave if I’m doing okay. It was nice, because I don’t feel that I’ve been judged. That really helps. So I think what happens is that you go through the day, like day by day, I think like 4 days back, like what have we done today, in the morning, looking through the phone records, phone calls, text messages to slowly recall what happened. But luckily I’d just been with my roommate, So, everyone else is okay. 

 

 Is your roommate in the same house as you?

No. The thing is that my roommate tested the first round, it was negative. My roommate is currently in our room, in the dorm, being in isolation. 

 

Did you feel any apprehensions about telling people, even your professors that you had tested positive? Or was it an okay experience? How did the professors react?

 I had reconciled with everything, telling myself that I didn’t do anything wrong, right? So I kind of got over it. And I just told them that like “I unfortunately got COVID.” And they have all been super supportive, and like “tell me if you need anything, or need any extra help” to just let them know. So it was nice.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.