I Tested Positive for COVID-19
Here is a log of my experience with NYU-style isolation and the absolutely unhinged lack of communication from NYU and within NYU.
September 28, 2020
I got a call on Friday, Sept. 18th at 8:47 p.m. from a 212 number when I was out trying to chase a story around Foley Square. “Your spit test from Monday Sept. 14 came back positive,” said a member of the NYU COVID-19 Prevention & Response team.
I was in a state of shock. I never went out without a mask. I only went out minimally for groceries, to pick up dining hall food and the spit test kits. I covered a story on Monday night after handing in that spit test and passed the daily screener on Friday so I went for dining hall food and went to Brooklyn Pier to shoot the sunset and skyline.
I’m not proud of this, but I called an Uber to get back to Green House at Seventh Street Residence Hall. On the way back, I texted everyone I was in contact with and told them to get tested. I told my suitemates with no small amount of trepidation. Coincidentally, this was also when everyone panicked about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
I got back to my dorm and started crying. I was overwhelmed. I thought about how I did everything right. I called the number that told me twice and left voicemails when no one picked up. I hesitatingly called my parents, and my mom dropped what we were fighting about before. She told me to take the Vitamin-C supplements I had.
The number called me back and asked if they could call back later. I ate the sushi I picked up from Palladium earlier for dinner.
He called back half an hour later and told me I was set to quarantine for ten days at Second Street Residence Hall. I started packing my necessities. He said he hoped they could get me out that night, and that they would call me back with transportation details.
I cleared out everything I use from the bathroom. I packed a suitcase, bag and backpack. I thought to myself, “What are necessities?”
I brought clothes, bedding, chargers and toiletries while staring at the wall in disbelief. He called back at 10:04 p.m. and said that I’d actually move out at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning, because otherwise there would only be transport past midnight. I told my suitemates when I would use our shared bathroom and immediately set six alarms for the next day.
A housing person called me from a No Caller ID number. The Residence Hall Director for Lipton Residence Hall told me the specifics about quarantining at Second Street. I couldn’t order any food delivery, but I could get mail delivered. I asked about trash disposal, work orders and fire alarms and she didn’t have an answer then. I asked about cleaning supplies and she said I wouldn’t get any. I added some half empty wipes, tissues and whatever snacks I had on hand to my bags.
My mom called me again, and I fell asleep at 1 a.m.
Did I mention I was going to be quarantined during my birthday?
Day 1: Sept. 19
I woke up at 7 a.m. and got to the lobby at 7:50 a.m. I got a call from a 718 number and a man in a Senior Ride van arrived at 8:08 a.m. He put on a blue surgical suit that covers his front and disposable gloves and two masks after greeting me and then got the van ready. I got in the van with wheelchairs and a stretcher, and then he told me we have to pick up a second infected person. You know, I thought the Monday spit test might have been a false positive.
We pull up in front of University Residence Hall. Since we were heading to Second Street, it would’ve made more sense if I got picked up after another passenger, but we could chalk this up to how I know nothing about how driving works in New York City.
I picked up keys from the bulletin board and was told to take my daily food bag with me because they were beginning deliveries then. I was told I could use a cart for moving in, but the food deliveries had all of them filled. I lugged my suitcase, bag, backpack and food bag down the hallway, and took the elevator up to the second floor, and then had to backtrack because my actual room was on the fifth floor, which was not immediately clear from the numbering system.
I forgot to get the “Room Occupied” sign because they weren’t out on the desk like I was told they would be. I called the dorm’s public safety desk, went back downstairs, got signs and taped them up outside my door.
In the room, there was a bed, desk, dresser, closet, bathroom and kitchenette. They provided a bag of cleaning supplies including the chlorine-based spray we had during the first quarantine, paper cups and plates, bars of soap and one singular tampon. I could not begin to imagine the thought process that led to that decision. There was bedding and a towel provided. The label on the bag said to return the sheets and towel into the bag after using them. Do they reuse those?
The COVID-19 team called me after I moved in. They said they only collect contact tracing data for the 48 hours before I took my test, and count close contact with people for more than 10 minutes. I went nowhere 48 hours before the spit test except to get groceries. Yes, I’m boring. I gave her my suitemates’ names, email, phone number and the last time we ate together.
I emailed every one of my professors and asked for extensions and Zoom lenience. Shoutout to Professor Rebecca Karl. She was righteously outraged on my behalf through the week.
The RHD of Lipton Hall responded to me about trash disposal (leave it outside the door for morning pickup), work orders (only in emergencies) and fire alarms (yes, evacuate if it’s a real alarm).
The Student Health Center called and said they were checking in on my mental health. The woman on the phone was impressed that I emailed my professors to take time for myself and said that I’m the only one who has done that.
She provided virtual resources and offered support, but did not know anything about how NYU’s quarantine works. I explained my situation to her every other minute. How is anyone going to offer mental health support without knowing anything about the situation everyone they have to talk to is in?
The shower here warmed up faster than the one in my dorm. I used the provided towel as a floor mat.
Day 2 Sept. 20
I still was not showing any symptoms, but my biggest problem was that I missed spice. I could not order food delivery and I had nothing to cook with. I started making a list of all the food I wanted to eat when I got out of quarantine. Halal (despite actually not having ever had any before). Kimchi. Boba. Pho. Roti. Hot pot. Cheesecake. Fried spam. Don’t @ me. NYU Eats gave me a bag of extra snacks and a case of Aquafina in addition to the three meals and the bottled water. There was a styrofoam Nissin Chicken Ramen, but I could not microwave it, and I did not have any microwaveable containers to boil the water.
I had no information in regards to moving back in after my isolation period ended. My suitemates, Emma and Amanda, were now quarantined for 14 days until Oct. 2. I felt so bad. I heard a rumor that the reason why I only got my Monday spit test result back on Friday was because the company was having processing problems. Everyone was getting their results late. This felt dangerous.
I also realized that I was moving back on Sept. 24 — not 10 days from the start of my quarantine, but 10 days since I took my positive test. I would not be going back four days early like I thought, but a whole week earlier. I emailed the COVID-19 team to ask how that would work.
Day 3: Sept. 21
I got a call from a member of the COVID-19 team checking in. I told her I had no symptoms and that my temperature was fine. I was emotionally stressed but I had a mountain of reading to do. I asked again about moving back in, and she did not have an answer. She could only guarantee that those details will be sorted out on Sept. 23, the day before my scheduled move out, as long as everything stayed fine. She said it should be fine for me to move back in because my suitemates and I have different bedrooms.
This was concerning: we share common areas.
I thought I got a response to my email about moving back, but it was just another reply to my answered question about trash disposal, work orders (only drainage and fridge problems) and that there will be a fire drill during my stay.
I did not have motivation to do anything productive until the clock hit 11 p.m. that day. Things were not looking good, especially when I tried to mentally prepare for getting back to my normal school schedule on Thursday. I did some reading and a short essay. Of course, it’s capitalism’s fault for making me feel like I have to be productive to be worthy but I also do not want to fall far behind in my classes when I have midterms coming in October, as a professor reminded me.
Day 4 Sept. 22
Somehow, I was able to attend three Zoom classes today.
Amanda got her negative spit test back, but they are supposed to be tested again today because it’s been five days since their last close contact with me. However, they received no communication on when or how to get tested.
Some absurdity happened when they finally called to respond about my moving back.
They were going to move me to Palladium Residence Hall temporarily after I got out of Second Street until my suitemates finished their quarantine. They also apparently got my dates wrong before, and my move out date wasn’t actually until Sept. 25 because the day I tested counted as Day Zero. I was not to receive any more information on that until that day.
That’s two and a half more days of Chartwells and yet another dorm room to clean. There was also no mention of any further testing for my suitemates or me.
I understood that some of this makes sense but I really wish I knew this from the beginning.
I still showed no symptoms.
Day 5: Sept. 23
This was the f-ckin worst birthday. I was so upset and stressed about everything that I felt like I couldn’t respond to anyone’s birthday wishes (despite that not being something I should have felt responsible for) and cried myself to sleep the night before.
I cut up a mooncake for myself that my parents had sent me last week for my birthday.
My recent call list was full of 212 numbers. I got a call from the same COVID-19 person who emailed me last night. To sum up what they told me:
- The COVID-19 team will confirm with me that I have no symptoms and then clear me to re-enter civilization on the night of Sept. 24, 10 days since my spit test and after five full days of quarantine.
- Housing will tell me my intended room number at Palladium and other moving details like time and transport on the day of Sept. 25, so not the day before moving out.
- I’m excused from testing for 90 days since I cannot be reinfected during that time period.
- Since I was isolated for 10 days and had no symptoms, I cannot further infect anyone. So even if I test again within the next week and it comes back positive, I will not be re-quarantined.
Apparently, these protocols are approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Day 6 Sept. 24
I got a call from the Alumni Residence and Seventh Street housing team. They wanted to check in with me, and jokingly called it step-down housing for me to go to Palladium.
I emailed Professor Karl to complain. I emailed one of my Teacher’s Assistants and said that NYU is being extraordinarily uncommunicative. I asked for an extension on an assignment I did not think I would need if my move out date was Sept. 24.
I emailed to ask about the non-perishable food I did not take with me.
There was also a fire drill today. We had instructions to stay put if it rang between 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. We are only meant to hear and see the alarm go off. At 7:45 p.m., the fire alarm rang in my room. It flashed first before sounding, so I had time to put down my laptop and put my fingers in my ears. I played music at the time so I concentrated on that. While the ringing happened I thought about how I would not have witnessed a fire drill if I had moved out today like they originally told me.
I got a call from the COVID-19 team clearing me from quarantine and reactivating my ID. They told me that housing may call me at 8 a.m. tomorrow with details or before so I can move out. What the f-ck. I set six alarms.
Day 7 (D-Day!!) Sept. 25
This is the f-ckin’ worst timeline.
I stressed about everything throughout the night and didn’t fall asleep until 3 a.m. My nerves startled me, and I woke up at 6:30 a.m. I tried to go back to sleep for another half hour, but I couldn’t, so I mindlessly scrolled on social media for a while.
I got up at 8 a.m. and packed my necessities. I categorized all the food I did not eat into cardboard boxes and put them into one white Chartwells bag.
By 10 a.m., I had not heard anything and there was another Chartwells bag at my door. It’s a really disheartening sign that they thought I would still be needing food today. I ate a granola bar while I kept sitting by my phone.
I called Housing, who said they do not directly deal with quarantine details. They redirected me to the Palladium Resource Center number and gave me the contact of the Resource Center manager instead of the Residence Hall Director like I expected. No one picked up when I was transferred.
The RC manager picked up on the second call and said that the Palladium RC doesn’t deal with quarantine details and Housing should give me that information. Fan-f-cking-tastic. I finally told them that Palladium and Housing are just passing the ball to each other. I was getting upset and wanted some information. She took down my info and said she will get back to me.
An hour and a half later, still nothing. I emailed Housing and Palladium together in the same email. I wanted to make my recitation at 2 p.m.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m told by the Second Street RHD that I should leave my food in my room. I had to wait for Housing to let me know about move-out and from the COVID-19 team to be cleared to leave, even though they cleared me last night.
At noon, another person from Housing called. She said I was moving back to my Seventh Street dorm, not temporarily placed in Palladium.
I was so tired.
They consulted with the COVID-19 team and said it would be fine — all three suitemates were asymptomatic! She said to return the key in an envelope under the RC window, leave my trash outside in a bag and give them the receipt if I want reimbursement for transport.
My suitemates let me know that they have worn masks in common areas. They told me what not to touch when I got back. I felt sorry for inadvertently putting them in this situation but I was a little glad that I would not be shuffled around any more. I updated my parents and Professor Karl. Professor Karl told me that she sent an indignant email to the higher powers — the COVID-19 team and Andrew Hamilton — and told them that I should just move back to my original dorm and apparently they replied to her that was exactly what was going to happen.
Did I have to wait for the official move-out email? The point person for Housing was previously copied on another email so I sent a follow up after packing everything else.
I decided to leave. I got my suitcase, bag, case of water, backpack to the door, did a last check and left in an Uber. It came out to $18, even though I went from Second Street to Seventh Street.
After entering my dorm, the first thing I did was place an order for kimchi fried rice and kimbap.
I unpacked in half an hour and got my food. Then, I thought about the laundry I had to do, packages to pick up and recitations to attend, which I actually did attend while eating my first real meal in a full week.
I got a call from the COVID-19 team. A representative from the team thought they had to clear me again and that I have not been okayed to move out yet. Once that got sorted, I was emailed a pass from completing the daily screener for one week because I would fail the question about having been isolated recently and restart the whole process again.
After being gone for one week, I already forgot which way the knob in the shower turns. I was happy to be clean and back in bed. I wanted to stay in the dorm for four more days for peace of mind and then go get tested.
I then learned that Gould Plaza wasn’t doing testing any more. Nice. Amanda’s mom finally got a response by emailing higher and higher up the chain until Dr. Carlo Ciotoli, the head of the COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team responded to her and said that Amanda and Emma should go out and get tested by themselves.
Day 8: Sept. 26
Everything about the last week has just been weird as sh-t. I would not want to repeat it, and I deeply feel for anyone going through this process. It is a terrible feeling being one of the 63 positive cases, as of writing this piece. I still do not know if my spit test was a false positive, but I will get tested in a few days.
I am grateful that I never developed symptoms and I know quick action will be taken when a test comes back positive. The whole week was incredibly unpleasant and all information and action felt inefficient and slow. It was a close-up look at how poor inter-department communication is at NYU, and I did not like what I saw. It is terrifying to test positive, and every day, it gets worse when it feels like you are on a rollercoaster with no end in sight.
There is enough to worry about without university bureaucracy. I hope anyone who tested positive who is asymptomatic remains that way and for anyone who does have symptoms to have a quick and safe recovery.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 28, e-print edition. Email Alexandra Chan at email@example.com.