Receiving a COVID-19 diagnosis has proven a challenge for many since the beginning of the pandemic, but college students diagnosed with COVID-19 while living on campus face unique challenges.
Student challenges include facing quarantine while immersed in their studies and the possibility of spreading COVID-19 between peers.
Associate vice president for facilities, Brian Makinen who leads a team of contact tracers specialized for only Eastern Kentucky University cases said, “Just because someone is diagnosed with COVID-19 it doesn’t mean their education stops. They just do it in a slightly different way.”
COVID-19 has affected Alli Bilbrey, special education major from Versailles, Kentucky especially hard. Not only has she lost two loved ones to COVID-19, but she was diagnosed with it in Nov. 2020 while on campus. She also had a COVID-19 scare in Aug. 2021 and had to be quarantined again.
“It was eye opening to me when I lost loved ones with no underlying conditions due to the virus,” Bilbrey said.
Bilbrey said she got vaccinated to protect herself and her grandparents.
Her symptoms began like allergies, which progressed to a migraine she couldn’t explain. That is when she decided to get tested.
“I think the college should offer more options concerning Zoom options for in-person classes when students may not be extremely ill but are exemplifying symptoms such as runny nose and headaches,” said Bilbrey.
Bilbrey said overall she feels safe on campus concerning guidelines and her experience through both quarantines were not too bad. Out of four professors, she said only one was hard to work with concerning assignments, but that didn’t affect her grade significantly.
Bohdi Owens, a sophomore psychology major, was looking forward to in-person classes this semester but was disappointed when he was diagnosed with COVID-19 three days into classes. His roommate had tested positive first and about a day later he experienced a runny nose and sinus headache. He got tested at student health services on campus and two days later his results were sent to his grandparents’ home, where he lived prior to attending classes on campus. His grandparents notified him of the positive test.
Makinen said if an individual uses other services outside student health services the results will go to their home health department. However, Owens got a test at student health services.
“I hated it. I couldn’t take it. I am not a depressed person usually, but it was a bad time for me mentally,” Owens said about his quarantine experience in Palmer.
Owens said his meals were almost always 30-45 minutes late, he had no shower curtain, no trash bags, and there was confusion about trash pickup.
“I am sorry to hear they did not have trash bags or a shower curtain. This should be easily remedied,” Makinen said.
According to Makinen, each individual is given a phone number to contact if they experience any issues in quarantine. Individuals working in housing also have special cards to make sure food is delivered to the quarantined students free of charge even if they do not have a meal plan.
“Nothing is perfect, but we have a dedicated team doing everything to serve residents. If something isn’t right, they go above and beyond to rectify it,” said Makinen.
There was even a fire drill during his time of quarantine, Owens said. No one told him what to do in case of a fire, so he masked up and evacuated outside with everyone else trying to stay away from people.
“I did tell the school I had no water, and they provided me plenty of that,” said Owens. “I was thankful for that.”
During his last few days in quarantine, he had an individual come into his room looking for trash to pick up even though he yelled, “I’m in quarantine.”
Owens said he was so glad to get out of quarantine and back to in-person classes. The school counseling center had a Zoom meeting called “Coping After Covid” for students to attend after being in quarantine. He said he was thankful for that.
“This pandemic is hard emotionally, mentally, and physically for just about everyone in various ways, shapes, and forms,” said Makinen. “I encourage people to desensitize mental and emotional help. There is great strength to reaching out when you need help.”
To set up an appointment with a counselor on campus, call (859) 622-1303.
Cameron Young, freshman aviation major from Owensboro, Kentucky was diagnosed with COVID-19 around Sep. 16. His symptoms also included a sinus headache, which he didn’t think much about until he lost his sense of taste and smell. Young got tested at Baptist Health Urgent Care in Madison County and was told to self-quarantine while waiting for his results. When he received his positive result, he filled out all the required information on EKU Direct, including proof of a positive test result. Young said he never heard back from the school and was only contacted by a western Kentucky health department worker from his hometown.
“I’m not sure what went wrong, but I self-quarantined anyway,” said Young. “I am young with no underlying conditions, so it wasn’t that bad.”
Makinen said he receives 100% of the forms filled out through EKU Direct.
“The way this is unfolding isn’t possible. It doesn’t go to anyone else besides EKU when they fill out the form on the EKU website,” Makinen said.
Individuals may report a positive case online once they have a positive result at staywelleku.edu. This can also be accessed on the EKU home page.
Young said his professors were flexible with him; however, they wanted a positive test before he could be officially excused from classes despite his symptoms.
Makinen said they want students to take themselves out of their environment when experiencing symptoms. He said illnesses other than COVID-19 are also going around, but regardless of COVID-19 or not they want students to stay well.
John Mader, a sophomore history major from Grayslake, Illinois, lost his sense of smell for nearly six months after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 in January. He said he didn’t have many problems in quarantine, but it took hours to notify someone he had a positive result.
“The school didn’t find out automatically,” said Mader. “When I realized they didn’t know, I tried contacting my RA and RHC while wearing three masks and gloves, but no one answered their doors. I then called the front desk where it took an hour to hear back from someone.”
Makinen said that once an individual reports their positive result, unless the report is filed after hours, a contact tracer is assigned to the case and will start the quarantine process.
Mader lived in Clay Hall and was placed into quarantine in North Hall. He said his professors were accommodating, especially his theatre class professor who created online content just for him.
Makinen said students get the option to quarantine at home or on campus. The campus has plenty of designated spaces for the purpose of quarantine, though not all are used.
According to the EKU COVID-19 portal, there are only five active cases on campus as of Oct. 26, 2021.
Individuals can track the number of cases on campus here.
Randall West, a sophomore education major from Belfry County was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Nov. of 2020.
West said, “What we did was great back then restriction wise and we still got it following those guidelines.”
His friend, Gabe Singleton, a sophomore physics major from Lincoln County, was also diagnosed around the same time.
“My symptoms were more significant than others I have talked to,” said Singleton. “Chest pains, loss of taste and smell, and always tired for two to three weeks.”
His taste and smell returned around six weeks after his diagnosis.
Singleton and West said they know of six Sullivan Hall residents that tested positive for COVID-19 around the same time. Those students were home when diagnosed, so they quarantined at home during a school break in Nov. 2020.
Concerning restrictions on campus, Singleton said, “They do a pretty good job. I can tell the professors are thankful we are wearing masks. They thank us all the time and remind us of the importance of them.”
Kenneth Blalock, an undecided freshman from Barbourville, Kentucky, said when he was diagnosed, he was able to stay in his own room for quarantine. Blalock said he highly recommends EKU implement a way for students to connect with someone while in quarantine. He missed classes and fell behind, but all his professors were willing to work with him.
Makinen said that students should bring both what they need to be successful in the online classroom to their place of quarantine but also the comforts of home such as a book to satisfy a reading hobby. Makinen said these practices make quarantine a little more bearable.
These seven students’ experiences are a small representation of the bigger picture.
“There is a human element involved,” Makinen said. “There is a lot of movement. I am not making that as an excuse. If something is wrong all they need to do is make a phone call. Our goal is to immediately rectify any problems and to serve our residential population well.”
These are seven individuals’ experiences with COVID-19 on campus. Are there more we should know about? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.