The Bloomingtonian

In quarantine at IU: One freshman’s experience

By Mary Claire Molloy – Special to The Bloomingtonian

The SUV came for her at 1 a.m.

Freshman Katie Hamann stood outside of Spruce Hall, holding only the essentials: four outfits, her toiletries and medications, a laundry basket and school supplies. 

No one could help her with the load. These objects, like her, could be contaminated.  It was time to go to the quarantine dorm.

“Quarantine is rough,” the driver said to her matter-of-factly. 

Katie waited for her to continue, but there was nothing else. No reassurances or words of encouragement came. 

Silence.

***

She checked into Ashton Residence Hall, Room 136.

This is a dorm ingrained in campus lore. On late-night tours of campus, they’ll tell you infamous cult-leader Jim Jones lived at Ashton when he was a student at Indiana University in the 1950s.

The room before her looked like it hadn’t been cleaned or updated since. Dust was everywhere and the floor was bare concrete. The AC unit sounded like a broken washing machine. As soon as her head hit the pillow, it rumbled on, causing her heart to race.

It was a far cry from life at Spruce.

On her own for the first time, Katie had chosen one of IU’s themed learning communities. She lived in a community of education majors. 

The group quickly developed camaraderie, she said. They hung out everyday in the lounge, helping each other with homework and playing board games. This was their safe bubble.

They prided themselves as being the only floor on Spruce that hadn’t violated the mask mandate. Some even made a sign that said “Wear your mask” and placed it in a window above the nearby basketball courts, a pointed message to the large group of boys who played together there everyday without masks.

“They were really tight-knit,” Katie’s mother, Laura Hamann, told The Bloomingtonian. “They looked at it as their own family unit and maybe had a false sense of security because of that.” 

Sunday night, the contact tracers began calling.

Most of the LLC floor had been randomly chosen for coronavirus testing, Katie said.  As a part of mitigation efforts, IU requires thousands of students to get tested every week to isolate positive cases and prevent community spread. 

One person on the LLC floor tested positive, so most of the floor community had to quarantine on campus or go home. 

Katie estimates that 31 of 38 people living on her floor were exposed. The director of the INSPIRE LLC said in an email to The Bloomingtonian that she did not have access to the exact number of residents in quarantine because of IU policy and HIPAA restrictions.  

Afraid of bringing a deadly virus home to her at-risk mother, brothers with asthma and father who was still going to work in-person everyday,  Katie packed her things and waited for a ride to Ashton. 

This was how she found herself alone, surrounded by bare white walls, waiting for the golden time of the day when she was allowed outside for 30 minutes in a roped off area.

“It feels like prison.”

***

When the first meals were delivered, the friend group made a Google doc to rank the worst ones. Soggy grilled cheese, roast chicken and a granola Greek yogurt bowl were top contenders. 

When placing orders, she pleaded in the comment section, listing ingredients she was allergic to and asking for substitutions. 

With little to do besides homework, Katie began vlogging about the experience, giving a tour of the communal bathrooms, where she was assigned a sink, toilet and shower, labeled with her room number. 

“I’m pretty sure all the girls on this floor use this bathroom…definitely more than 10 people,” Katie says as she swivels her phone’s camera to show off the shower stalls and barred windows.

One of her biggest fears was that, if she didn’t have coronavirus now, she would get it from someone at Ashton who did. 

The Bloomingtonian has spoken to other students who were recently quarantined in Ashton. They did not want to be identified for fear that they would lose their jobs as student employees at the university for speaking out.

One said she was so afraid of going into the communal bathrooms that she would brush her teeth everyday by wetting her toothbrush with one water bottle and spitting out her toothpaste into another.

Another complained that students were not tested at Ashton after their quarantine ended. He said he was released into the campus community right away, unsure of the risk he might pose to others. 

Kirk White, the Co-Chair of the IU’s COVID Response Unit told The Bloomingtonian fewer than 100 of the 560 beds at Ashton are filled in with quarantine and isolation patients. He also said the university is bringing on-site testing to Ashton next week. 

“We realize that it’s not an easy thing to be in quarantine or isolation and limited to one room or courtyard,” White said. 

He cited the university’s efforts to make Ashton comfortable for residents, including the food delivery system, allowing residents time outside each day and a staff team on hand 24/7.

White added that the positivity rate in residence halls is less than 2% because of strict rules about masks and distancing.

“If the university community and particularly our students are doing what they’re supposed to…we’ll be able to keep this down to low enough levels that we can keep campus operations going,” he said.

“When students start to let the standards slip…infection rates will go up. It’s that simple.”

***

It took 24 hours for Katie’s parents to decide it was time for their daughter to come home. It was one thing piled upon another–the food situation, the extreme indoor isolation, the facility quality and the risk of coronavirus exposure in shared spaces — that tipped the scale.

 “To avoid further trauma, it was best for us to just pick her up,” her mother said later. 

They piled into the family minivan and made the two hour drive back home to Corydon, Indiana. Katie stayed in the backseat, double-masked and trying not to breathe too much. 

No hugs were exchanged when she got home. She was lugging her stuff once again, this time to isolate in the basement for two weeks. 

Her dogs, Jovi and Princess, keep scratching on the door, waiting for her to come out. She rarely does, unless it’s for socially distanced dinners outside. 

Instead, it’s homework and quarantine again, but in the comfort of her own home. Sometimes, she’ll see people complain on social media about having to wear masks, about mandates being a violation of their liberties. Anger bubbles up. 

“Being stuck in a sketchy dorm room, completely relying on other people to bring you food and take care of you makes you reevaluate what it means to get your freedom taken away.”

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