20 students and seven employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since Taylor began its fall semester on Aug. 16. 144 total students and employees have been released from either isolation or quarantine since this date.
So where do students go when experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, awaiting test results or facing a positive diagnosis?
Dean of Students Jesse Brown, who currently oversees the Taylor COVID hotline and the quarantine/isolation meal delivery, said that it depends on the situation.
The three locations for on-campus isolation or quarantine are Haakonsen Hall, Ockenga Honors Lodge and the old bookstore (nicknamed “The Dome” or “The Spaceship”).
“We recognize being in isolation is disruptive, so we’re trying to make it comfortable,” Brown said. “It’s probably not what students hoped for when they returned to Taylor, and it’s not something we hope happens very often, but given the ways in which COVID has impacted our campus we’re trying to do our best to prevent the spread while still giving a good experience for our students. We’re just trying to care for them the best we can.”
At this time, students who cannot or prefer not to isolate or quarantine at home will typically be sent to the old bookstore or Haakonsen, since neither location has reached full capacity.
Haakonsen is intended to be a short-term location for students awaiting test results due to COVID-19 symptoms or exposure to a positive individual. It has seven rooms that can each hold two people, with a fridge in each room. The length of time students spend at Haakonsen may vary depending on how quickly their test results arrive — if negative, they are free to leave, if positive, they have the option to isolate at home or in the old bookstore.
Furnished with a full-sized fridge, exercise equipment and a microwave, the old bookstore is designed to be a longer-term place to house positive students. It can hold 10-12 men and 10-12 women in separate, barrack-style sections.
It has also been affectionately called the “TU Isolation Center,” by an Instagram account under the same name. The profile, created by junior Booker Dong, chronicles the daily adventures of the residents isolating there. It gives a glimpse into the layout of the building, the meals that are delivered, and even a brief struggle with bats flying through the building.
When Dong tested positive with COVID-19 mid-September, he decided to create the account to parody other wing and floor profiles and share his experience. He even posted pictures of a makeshift gym he built out of the objects in the areas still under construction.
“There were pipes and mannequins and cinder blocks lying around, so I quickly assembled a barbell to do some simple weight training exercises and I taped the mannequin to a mattress to goof around and use as a punching bag,” Dong said.
He requested a few real weights be brought in, and while these never arrived, a bike machine and elliptical machine were delivered for cardio. When he alerted the university about the bats, maintenance workers came in and sealed off the openings where they were entering.
When not attending classes via Zoom, watching TV or working out, Dong and the other three men with him in the old bookstore mostly slept because of how tired they were. He said they never felt their health was in danger but he personally still struggled to shake off some symptoms by the time he was free to leave, ten days later.
“At first, (my symptoms) were kind of bad, I was coughing and had a lot of mucus, but the worst part of all was not having taste or smell for anything,” Dong said. “I have to get things really close to my face and inhale a lot to get a whiff of anything.”
He encourages students who do not have preexisting conditions and who are in good health to take precautions but also not to be fearful.
At the beginning of the year, sophomore Annie Winters thought her COVID-19 symptoms were part of the annual colds she gets in the fall. She got tested just in case and was placed in Haakonsen as she awaited her results. By the time she received her positive diagnosis, she was asymptomatic.
Instead of transferring to the old bookstore, Winters remained in Haakonsen since she came to Taylor early for preceptorial leading and was one of the first students on campus.
Winters said the environment in Haakonsen felt sterile, like a hospital room. Her food consisted mostly of cold sandwiches, and she wished staff would have checked in on her every day. However, since her isolation took place at the beginning of the year, she said these things may have improved at this point in the semester.
At that time, Haakonsen rules stated she must stay within 30 feet of the building, so Winters sometimes sat outside to enjoy the weather. Since classes had not yet started, she watched three seasons of “Downton Abbey” and worked on a coloring book to pass the time.
“Honestly, it was really depressing in there because I had no contact with anyone, and I’m also very extroverted,” Winters said. “Not being with people at all was really hard.”
Now, when other friends face quarantine or isolation, Winters said she feels empathetic of their experience and tries to do as much as she can for them. She encourages other students in quarantine or isolation to not feel guilty when asking for help. She is thankful for the people in her life who cared for her when she needed it.