Editor's note: Blaine Teague is a reporter for The OU Daily Culture Desk who was required to self-isolate on campus after being exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. This is his account of his 14 days inside Traditions West.
“You have an hour to pack up everything you’ll need for the next 14 days,” the man on the other end of the phone told me on August 26th, just four days into the official school year. I was to gather my belongings for the next two weeks and report to an apartment in Traditions West where I would be quarantined due to my exposure to COVID-19 from a friend in the Couch residential hall. I was told that we would be provided food, but I would need to bring bedding, toiletries, and shower supplies. I began to frantically pack clothes, books, my laptop and things to keep me occupied for the next two weeks of confinement. I was instructed to drive myself down once they had sent me the address to the apartment via text. I said my goodbyes to my roommate and suitemate and was on my way.
I arrived at the apartment complex where I found further instructions for how to survive my two weeks of quarantine. I was going to have food delivered to me each day, I was to stay in quarantine for a full 14 days regardless of how many negative test results I got (which happened to be four negative tests in my entire quarantine period), I was to have no visitors, a nurse would be in contact with me each day in order to check on me and I was to fill out a maintenance form if I needed any assistance with technical matters.
Unfortunately for me, I arrived at 5:45 p.m., just too late to order dinner from the university delivery service. I decided to email the person placed in charge of our food delivery and asked if I could still make an order. Luckily, she said yes and was able to help me.
The next day, after I woke up to check my phone, I was informed that the university had changed its policy regarding our meals. We were to go to the Couch Restaurants or any of the other restaurants on campus to get food because the University was unable to deliver food to each exposed student. This was problematic for me, because as I mentioned earlier, I had not brought any food or snacks to my temporary housing. This meant that I then had to go to the grocery store after being exposed to COVID-19 because otherwise I would have no groceries for the entire two weeks. For my entire quarantine period, I ended up going to Couch Restaurants or the Oklahoma Memorial Union nearly every day.
Food was not the only problem for me during quarantine. It was a day after getting groceries that I met my first unwelcome visitor. A cockroach, the size of two of my fingers, had decided to spend the last moments of his life sunbathing in the windowsill next to my bed. For context, I am not a bug person. I was absolutely mortified that this behemoth of a cockroach had invaded my bedroom of all places. However it was the only one I had seen, so I disposed of it and began blocking the space under my door so there’d be no more. I figured that maybe this was the only one because surely if there were more, then I would’ve seen them by now. I was wrong.
After this, I began finding these cockroaches and other bugs all over the place. Every night when I came into the kitchen, there would be anywhere between 4-8 cockroaches climbing on my drawers, counters, and under the fridge. Killing them proved to be a difficult task as they were remarkably quick and knew their escape route well. As scared of bugs as I am, my only option was to launch my shoe at them and hope I could kill a couple before they would flee. I began finding dead crickets in different nooks and crannies, several dead spiders in the shower as well as live ones crawling about in my different articles of clothing, some mysterious beetles I’d find dead on the linoleum floor and my personal favorite, the strange grey bugs that woke me up by crawling on my neck and face one night.
By this point, just two weeks into my freshman year, I desperately wanted to go home. However, my mother is immunocompromised and wasn’t comfortable with me living there due to her high risk if she were to catch the virus. My only option at this point was to move to the other bedroom in my apartment, seal off any potential entrances for bugs, and hope for the best.
My quarantine experience for the past two weeks has been quite miserable to put it frankly. The confusion with food, the guilt from potentially exposing countless people, sharing my apartment with who knows how many bugs, and the lack of human contact has been anything but fun. I’ve even developed a fun sense of paranoia about a Gregor Samsa-sized cockroach appearing behind me at any given moment.
It's also worth noting that by “COVID-19 response team members checking on you,” while in isolation, they mean that you will be sent a link to a health form once every 4-5 days. If you don’t fill the form out, nothing happens and they just send it again four days later. This entire time, not a single person aside from my friends in quarantine with me have come to check on me for anything. If I had developed a high grade fever and was unable to get up to my phone, there’s no telling what could’ve ended up happening. I can’t speak for every student who has had to quarantine, but the lack of concern or care from the university has been infuriating. Even while writing this, on what should’ve been my last day of quarantine, I sat there waiting for housing to respond to one of my countless emails and calls so that I could finally get out.
Several of my friends who have had to go through a similar experience are dropping out of OU in fear that they may have to go through this process again, and I cannot blame them a single bit. This has been my entire college experience, and I don’t even have immunity to the virus so it's highly likely I’ll be made to quarantine again. We were told in advance that this would be safe and that we were going to be taken care of, and after reflecting on this past week, I can’t say that either of those things were true.
If anyone who has COVID or has been exposed is reading this and debating between going home and letting the university take care of you, I would advise you to go home. If students or faculty are at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19, then I would advise you to go home. After what I’ve experienced for the past two weeks, this entire situation is anything but safe for the people here.