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'Irresponsible and extremely unsafe': students deliver meals to friend in quarantine amid unclear outing policy

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Walker Tower (copy)

Walker Tower Oct. 21, 2019.

Several OU students are delivering meals to their peers in quarantine to circumvent a policy they say “defeats the purpose” of the university COVID-19 protocol. 

After being exposed to COVID-19 on Feb. 4, OU meteorology freshman Robby Frost has been quarantining on the fifth floor of Walker Tower since Feb. 6, as instructed by OU Health Services. Although he is allowed to leave his room for “essential” activities, including getting food from the university dining halls, he said he feels uncomfortable doing so. 

“I know that I have a heightened risk of carrying COVID-19,” Frost said. “Even though I'm double-masked, it just feels weird being around people knowing that I could be spreading it to them (while) asking for food.”

Frost said his first time breaking quarantine to get food in Couch Restaurants — before he tested negative for COVID-19 — was “pretty stressful” on top of the uncertainty he was already facing. He said he tried “not to talk that much” to reduce the risk of infecting others when student employees were serving his food and started pointing out what he wanted. The possibility of spreading the virus to someone else was always in the back of his mind. 

“I could definitely see the possibility (of quarantined students) eating and (not worrying) about it,” Frost said. “I don't think (OU Housing and Food) exclusively said that I can't eat there and I wasn't given a limit to how many times I can leave per day.”

Frost mentioned his concern about OU quarantine policies in a GroupMe,  wondering why he would go to the dining halls on campus if it wasn’t safe to attend classes and stay with his roommate. OU political science freshman Mariah Powers, OU psychology freshman Cassidy Middlebrook and OU biology junior Logan Pesina offered their help to Frost.

“I decided to volunteer to help deliver Robby’s food because I can’t imagine what it must be like to fear you have COVID-19 and not want to expose anyone, yet you have to just to get food,” Powers wrote in an email to The Daily. “The fact (that) they don’t provide adequate resources to deliver food to the students who are potentially COVID positive is irresponsible and extremely unsafe.”

Pesina wrote in an email to The Daily she had the capabilities to help someone in need since “OU isn’t doing enough, nor the administration.”

“I would go to the caf, DM him the options of the day, pick up his choices and then deliver to his quarantine location. I would probably leave the food outside his door and make sure he’d receive it.” Pesina wrote. “Hopefully the caf staff would allow me to request a larger portion per meal, so that he could have some food left over to put in the fridge as a quarantine snack.”

According to an email from OU Housing and Food’s director of Marketing and Communications Amy Buchanan, “asymptomatic quarantined on-campus students, those who have not tested positive for COVID-19, are instructed to restrict their movement for 10 days, unless it is for an essential need, such as food, medical care or medicine and other vital activities,” based on the guidance of Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“No prolonged outings are permitted,” Buchanan wrote in the email. “Students are encouraged to use curbside pickup for any crucial outings and wear a mask and socially distance anytime they leave quarantine for essential items.”

Asymptomatic students living in the residence halls will remain in their “permanent housing assignment” if they don’t have a roommate and don’t use a community bathroom. Otherwise, they will be moved to a “quarantine space in the Residential Colleges or the Towers.” Students living in Traditions can “quarantine in their apartment or move to another unit depending on the situation,” Buchanan wrote. 

Symptomatic students are moved “into an isolation housing space at Traditions” determined by OU Health Services, which is responsible for the movement and placement of individuals in quarantine housing or isolation housing. 

Pesina wrote she feels OU administration is looking at people in quarantine “as data, in a sense, instead of as people.” She said administrators should do better providing “measures and general human decency” for OU students and faculty. 

“I certainly have complained to and with faculty, but I don’t see any change coming from the administration after all of this,” Pesina wrote. “I feel like we’re stuck with a bad situation made with the best financial decision in mind.”

Besides OU students’ critique of OU quarantine policies, Middlebrook and Frost’s biggest concern is that OU students are not taking COVID-19 seriously. 

“I often see large groups gathered without masks and, as a worker at the Canes on campus, people come in without masks a lot, and I also found it strange that the testing at Cate was removed,” Middlebrook wrote in the email. “The number of people being tested has gone down significantly because of that.”

When asked what changes they would make to the current OU quarantine policies, Powers wrote in the email that she would “require students who have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms” to not leave their room. 

“The students in quarantine should be delivered three meals a day, dropped off at their door,” Powers wrote. “Ideally, students who are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed should be moved to quarantine housing immediately — not once they test positive days after getting tested.”

Pesina wrote she would make cleaning essential to improve the living conditions in OU quarantine housing, which she considered not the best “even for campus housing.”

Powers and Pesina wrote they believe the OU community could feel “safer” on campus regarding COVID-19 exposure if “changes were enforced.”

“The university has a ton of policies regarding COVID-19, but they don’t actually implement them. I have never seen a student not correctly wearing a mask be reprimanded, whether that be in on campus food facilities, residence halls or even in classrooms while the professor is teaching,” Powers wrote. “I also think we should be notified if a student in one of our classes tests positive, so we can adequately monitor for symptoms or get tested.”

Frost is waiting on repeating his COVID-19 test and is expecting to be out of quarantine Feb. 15, as OU Health Services instructed him. Meanwhile, he reflects on doing “all the right things” for the good of the community.

“The main reason to be mindful (about COVID-19 exposure) is to care about other people here — for all the faculty that are older and higher risk, but also for the community as a whole,” Frost said.

Marien López-Medina is an international student and United World Colleges alumna from Nicaragua. She is majoring in journalism with a minor in public and nonprofit administration and works as a news reporter for The Daily.

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