Students are currently medically isolating in hotel rooms on campus at the Statler Hotel.

Sun File Photo

Students are currently medically isolating in hotel rooms on campus at the Statler Hotel.

September 9, 2020

Life in Medical Isolation at The Statler Hotel

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Stella Linardi ’22 experienced aches, chills and dizziness Sept. 2. By the time her COVID-19 test results came back positive on Friday and she was taken to The Statler Hotel by CULift, Linardi’s symptoms also included a fever and rashes. While her symptoms fluctuate, she is still in pain.

“If I stand or sit up, my heart starts racing like crazy and pounding,” said Linardi on Wednesday. “I can’t even walk around my room [independently], I hold on to and lean on things.”

Linardi is one of the students housed in The Statler Hotel — which is now at 94.8 percent occupancy, according to the Wednesday morning shift report shared with The Sun — for isolation in the case of positive test results or quarantine for those exposed to COVID-19.

Some students with milder symptoms described their stay at The Statler comfortable, while multiple students with more severe symptoms have been transported to the emergency room and then back to The Statler. According to an email forwarded to The Sun by a student staying in The Statler, COVID-19 positive students are informed that if they do not follow the Tompkins County Health Department health order, TCHD could seek a court order in the Supreme Court of Tompkins County.

Linardi called the front desk to contact emergency services on Friday night, but EMTs determined she did not need emergency hospitalization. By Sunday, breathing was painful.

Linardi called the Statler front desk to call for emergency services again Monday night.

She was then admitted to the Cayuga Medical Center emergency room at 12:30 a.m., had her vital signs monitored and lab tests run until she was released at 5:15 a.m. Tuesday morning. Since her vital signs were normal, Linardi was brought back to The Statler.

According to Dr. Douglas MacQueen, medical director of infectious diseases for Cayuga Medical Center, a COVID-19 patient is admitted from the emergency room to in-patient care if they have difficulty breathing and if their vital signs that show they need more oxygen to help them breathe, or otherwise they may not be able to breathe on their own.

A Cornell Health clinician has since assessed Linardi’s symptoms multiple times in person, Linardi said.

Cornell Health has a clinician at The Statler during business hours and a clinician on call after hours, according to Anne Jones, medical director of Cornell Health. TCHD and Cornell Health providers check in with students regularly, and Statler staff deliver meals to students’ doors.

“Cornell Health clinicians provide self-care guidance to symptomatic students who do not need hospitalization, which may include prescription or over-the-counter medication to treat symptoms and relieve discomfort,” Jones wrote in a statement to The Sun.

After calls with Cornell Health clinicians, Linardi has received Tylenol for her pain, and a prescription for Tamiflu for her influenza infection — she has the flu as well as COVID-19.

For Linardi, getting COVID-19 has been especially stressful because she is a first-generation, low-income, DACA student.

“I’ve been telling people since before COVID that my communities are vulnerable and it turned out to be me, [COVID] got me,” said Linardi. “I am fighting for my rights and my life at the same time.”

Linardi is not the only person with COVID-19 in The Statler who moved back and forth between the Cayuga Medical ER and The Statler Hotel.

Another student, who asked to remain anonymous for medical privacy reasons, was taken via ambulance to Cayuga Medical after a Cornell Health doctor assessed her symptoms. She received multiple X-rays and other tests. So far, the scans have come back normal, although she will get more X-rays soon. However, breathing is painful for her and sitting up is difficult.

Not only are students who test positive for COVID-19 housed in Statler — students who have been exposed to COVID-19 are living there in quarantine as well.

According to Jones, the TCHD is in charge of determining how long students will be in isolation, taking into account factors such as length of time after symptom onset and resolution, as well as exposure.

Julia Draganoff ’24 has been in the hotel since Friday because, according to the TCHD contact tracer who called her, she had been exposed to COVID-19. She tested negative for COVID-19, and as long as she stays asymptomatic, she will be allowed to leave after two weeks have passed since her exposure.

Like all other students in The Statler, Draganoff has a mini-fridge and microwave in her room. Although she doesn’t have access to laundry services, she can use room service to order detergent. Draganoff has been attending classes remotely and likes the food at The Statler. She is especially grateful for her supportive friends.

Other students with milder symptoms are trying to keep busy in isolation.

According to multiple students, Statler staff are welcoming, making their medical isolation easier. However, not all Statler staff feel safe working with COVID-19 positive students. A former employee who quit because of safety concerns, spoke to The Sun about what had made him feel unsafe on the job, and remains anonymous because of his concerns about finding another job.

The former employee took no issue with the personal protective equipment Cornell provided him. Instead, he expressed concerns with the number of students he was checking in with and the unknown COVID-19 status of the people bringing deliveries for students.

All Statler employees participated in safety training on general workplace precautions and on the use of their PPE, which included N95 masks, gloves and eye protection, according to Arthur Keith, general manager of the Hotel.

Safety procedures include having employees leave the hallways before students arrive on the floor to check-in to their rooms, as well as making sure that employees had left before students opened their doors to take a package or meal delivery.

“Most of our employees do not come into close contact with isolated or quarantined students. Some of our staff may have experienced very limited and brief contact during check in, perhaps 4-6 feet for 30-45 seconds,” Keith wrote.

According to the former employee, he was frequently in contact with students bringing care packages to their friends in The Statler, as well as delivery drivers who brought Instacart deliveries, Amazon packages and other items. As the number of students in The Statler Hotel increased, so did his worries, causing him to ultimately quit.

“Cornell Health just kept dropping off students towards the end of my shift,” the employee said. “At the same time, we had students standing outside waiting to check in while delivery drivers pulled up.”

According to Keith, one change that was made to enhance safety at the Statler Hotel is a new delivery drop-off area inside the hotel main entrance with an intercom to communicate with any delivery people, helping to limit contact between delivery drivers and Statler staff.

The experience of falling ill has left some students questioning what a “mild” case really means.

“One of the justifications for bringing all of us back was in this age range, we only have mild symptoms,” one of the anonymous students said. “What mild symptoms have meant for me is extreme fatigue, which is getting consistently worse, and difficulty breathing.”