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Beyond a two-week quarantine in The Statler, Stella Linardi '22 has to pay out of pocket for ambulance fees and was forced to figure out her own transportation while awaiting a COVID-19 diagnosis.

September 17, 2020

University’s Handling of Infected Student Prompts Accountability Demands

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Melissa Montejo ’23 has never met Stella Linardi ’22. But when Linardi was diagnosed with COVID-19, Montejo said she knew she had to help, creating an Instagram graphic detailing Linardi’s experience — which currently has almost 1,400 likes on her page.

With Uber rides from Cayuga Medical Center at 2 a.m. and hundreds of dollars in ambulance fees, Linardi’s experience after being diagnosed with COVID-19 on Sept. 4 has been tumultuous. As a first generation, low-income student, financial and health concerns have riddled the first two weeks of Linardi’s junior year.

Linardi began experiencing symptoms on Sept. 2, the first day of the fall semester. After attempting to focus on classes but repeatedly dozing off and feeling disoriented, Linardi went to the emergency room on the advice of Cornell Health.

She was diagnosed with the flu and was still awaiting COVID-19 test results when she was discharged from the hospital that night. Around 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 3, she was at Cayuga Medical Center with no ride home — in a call to Cornell Health, she was informed that University transportation was not available. Linardi eventually called an Uber to make it back to her Collegetown apartment.

“I arrived at my home at around 2:15 a.m. and I’m literally just leaning on the stairs, crawling up to get to my apartment,” Linardi said.

Linardi’s experience is inconsistent with the expected action plan when a student showing COVID-19 symptoms awaits test results. According to Anne Jones, medical director of Cornell Health, “anyone who is tested for symptoms of COVID is still considered — by public health definition — as a ‘Person Under Investigation’ and is placed into an isolation unit until results are available and a medical clearance process is performed.”

Linardi’s diagnosis was only confirmed early on Sept. 4 — at which point she had already been in her apartment for over 24 hours — when she was informed that she was COVID-19 positive through Cayuga Health’s patient portal. She called Cornell Health and was informed that a delivery services vehicle would pick her up, which drove her to Cornell Health in the early afternoon.

“Cornell Health has systems in place to ensure that patients who call us with symptoms are cared for and given access to healthcare and testing resources as quickly as possible,” Jones said. “Because of pandemic safety protocols, our doors must remain locked, so we ask all patients to call and speak with our healthcare staff by phone about their symptoms.”

However, for Linardi, these locked doors posed yet another problem.

After arriving at Cornell Health, Linrdi’s driver directed her to a locked door with instructions to call a number to be let in. On the call, the receiver told Linardi that she didn’t have an appointment scheduled for COVID-19 care. Linardi decided to go back to the delivery services vehicle and asked the driver to transport her to The Statler.

“By that time, I was outside for at least 15 minutes, just waiting. And I passed by people. I’m exposing people and I’m scared — I’m scared because I don’t want to infect anyone,” Linardi said.

After another 15-minute wait at the Statler, Linardi was let into her quarantine room.

Meanwhile, Montejo was wrapping up the third day of classes. After flying in from California, she had just finished up her two-week quarantine a few days earlier.

“I feel like [during] the first two weeks of class, it was pretty, pretty evident that maybe the school wasn’t exactly prepared to bring everybody back on campus,” Montejo said. “It often times felt unorganized.”

Montejo was following Linardi on Instagram and started learning about her experience as Linardi began sharing through her Instagram stories.

“That kind of created a worry in me where, again, if I were to contract the virus in class or somewhere, anywhere else, how would the University respond? Because again, I identify very closely with Stella — I’m also a first generation, low-income student,” Montejo said. “When I heard what was going on, that really struck me because I realized that really could be me.”

Montejo said she also identified closely with Linardi’s experience enduring the financial burden of health care, recounting an experience from last year when she called Cornell Health with a concern.

“They were like, ‘you need to go to the hospital.’ And I was like, ‘I literally can’t afford a hospital trip.’ So I just — I mean, I was fine. But again, just that initial worry of even going to a doctor. It’s scary,” Montejo said.

Linardi has amassed over $200 in ambulance fees because she had to visit Cayuga Medical Center during quarantine.

According to Chris Payne, senior director at Cornell Health, “Coverage for off-campus care (like trips to the Cayuga Medical Center’s emergency department) depends on the student’s insurance plan.” Linardi is on the Student Health Plan.

Montejo was inspired to make her Instagram account more educational and informative during the summer in the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Montejo estimates that, at its peak, her graphic was reposted to around 75 other Instagram stories, informing hundreds of students about Stella’s experiences.

Montejo is optimistic about the power that social media can hold in advocacy.

“We need to keep in mind that we have a voice, we can make change, because we do have a powerful presence,” Montejo said. “We are the campus. We deserve the attention and proper care that comes with being here.”

Linardi also feels committed to sharing her story with the Cornell community, hoping for increased accountability and planning on the part of the University.

“If I never, kind of, became a whistleblower, no one would have known that these alarming incidents were happening and it would have happened to other people,” Linardi said.

Correction, Sept. 25, 4:32 p.m.: A previous version of this article inaccurately made multiple references to CULift vehicles transporting Linardi to The Statler and hospital. According to a University spokesperson, CULift has not been providing transportation services for COVID-19-related situations; Cornell is using delivery services vehicles to carry out COVID-19-related needs. The article has since been updated to reflect these changes.