After chills and muscle aches in the days leading up to winter break, Luke Hartigan ’24 was not surprised when he got the call from Cayuga Medical Center informing him that he had tested positive for COVID.
The 10 days he spent quarantined in Hotel Ithaca were “far and away the worst 10 days of my life, without question” he said. But Hartigan and others have said that their bout with the virus has upsides — including feeling safer in social settings because of their antibodies and being exempt from surveillance tests.
Like all students quarantined at Cornell, Hartigan was not allowed to step outside his room for the entirety of his stay. Left in an ill-lit room due to the lack of overhead lighting, he quickly fell into a state of isolation-induced boredom, even losing the motivation to connect with friends virtually through mobile games.
Julia Draganoff ’24 has quarantined at The Statler Hotel three times, totaling 23 days of isolation. Last semester she was exposed to someone who tested positive and checked herself in due to some symptoms and ultimately tested positive for COVID in March.
Draganoff felt very ill during her most recent stay, having to run the shower for hours at a time for the condensation to relieve her congestion. Her difficulties were compounded due to internet issues at The Statler.
”My computer would not connect to the specific router in The Statler, so I couldn’t connect to Wi-Fi for the entire time I was there. IT didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Draganoff was forced to use a mobile hotspot to do school work and online classes. She did not know of anyone else who experienced the same issue and stressed that Cornell IT staff worked hard at attempting to remedy the situation. However, her computer has not had an issue since leaving The Statler.
Despite the challenges these students faced during quarantine, they agreed that contracting COVID came with some benefits.
Students who test positive for COVID are exempt from surveillance testing for 90 days after their first positive test. This means the worries of missing a test and facing the new consequences announced on March 30, such as being prevented from logging into Canvas and accessing the Wi-Fi, are alleviated for three months.
“I think being exempt from surveillance testing was definitely a benefit,” Jillian Beck ’24, who contracted COVID over winter break, said. “I don’t have to worry about missing any tests and getting locked out of Canvas or quarantining if one of my friends tests positive.”
After the 90 days are up, however, the switch to getting tested again was difficult for some. Hartigan’s testing exemption ended about two weeks into the spring semester and his testing frequency was recently bumped up to three days a week due to his involvement in Greek life.
The students also agreed that having the antibodies gives them an added sense of security on campus.
“Having antibodies has definitely made me feel safer. I’m a bit more relaxed when going out to restaurants and being around people, especially since I recently got the vaccine,” Beck said.
Gabe Biers-Browne ’23 has a slightly more apprehensive view, having had COVID in late December.
”I have a certain level of comfort knowing that I have a high level of immunity and some antibodies, but it hasn’t really affected how I behave,” he said.
Gregory Randazzo ’22, who contracted the virus in July, cautioned against being too negligent of social distancing guidelines.
“I think that most people at Cornell are very disconnected from the reality on the ground,” he said. “They don’t take it seriously at all. I know people who died and a lot of people here just view it as a nice little break, which is obscene.”
It is still unknown how long coronavirus immunity lasts and current CDC guidelines advise individuals to always adhere to prevention measures.
Because of this, even students who had COVID expressed their eagerness to get the vaccine. They feel it will add an additional layer of protection that the natural antibodies alone cannot provide. Getting vaccinated is also a requirement to return to campus next semester, no matter whether a student has previously tested positive.
“I don’t think campus will ever be the same,” Beck said. “But I hope that campus will return a bit more to normal with the vaccine rollout.”