Only being allowed outside 20 minutes a day. No air conditioning. Waiting until it’s a “necessity” to go to the bathroom.
That’s what life is like for the more than 100 Colorado College students quarantined in their dorm for two weeks after one of their peers tested positive for the coronavirus on the third day of first-year move-in last week.
Campus life wasn’t supposed to be like this, the teens stuck inside Loomis Hall say. “Bummed,” is how two of them plainly put it.
Finn Mott, a first-year student from Vail, had just finished moving into Loomis on Sunday when his residential adviser came to tell him he needed to stay in his room. Rumors of something afoot had been circulating in student group chats. That night, Loomis residents learned about the quarantine in a dorm-wide Zoom meeting.
“I was pretty upset because it was the day I moved in, and I was looking forward to getting to know campus a little bit before class started,” Mott said.
The dorm-wide quarantine happened because the college says its rules about students arriving on campus weren’t followed. Each person was asked to adhere to “enhanced social distancing protocols” while awaiting the results of a coronavirus test, which all students are getting as they arrive on campus.
The locked-down students, most of them first-years, are spending their time reading, doing puzzles and Zooming in isolation.
The unlucky residents of Loomis Hall — a building dating back to 1951 that one student journalist described earlier this year as “the most physically unsettling dorm on campus” — learned on Sunday evening their entire dormitory would be quarantined for 14 days.
As some other college campuses face coronavirus outbreaks and agonizing decisions to move entirely to remote learning as students return, Colorado College enacted strict protocols for those living in Loomis. The idea was to keep the first positive case on the campus in Colorado Springs from exploding into a full-scale outbreak and ruining the possibility of any in-person learning at the small, private liberal arts college this year.
School officials hope to avoid what happened at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where plans for in-person classes were abandoned after at least 130 students tested positive for COVID-19.
Students stuck in Loomis said the most challenging aspect of the quarantine is that they can’t go outdoors other than a scheduled 20-minute period. Even then, Loomis residents have to stay within the bounds of a spray-painted area on the grass.
“And then the fact that our classmates are still able to be outside and meet each other and find friends while we’re all going to be two weeks behind on that,” said first-year Loomis resident Lucia Penzel in describing the difficulty of being locked down in her first days away from her home in Carbondale.
It was Colorado College students working as contact tracers who identified how large the group of potentially infected students might be. They started making calls after the college confirmed the first positive test and quickly realized the situation was “much larger” than initially expected.
“Social distancing did not happen,” Maggie Santos, the college’s COVID-19 emergency manager who also leads the Campus Safety department, told The Colorado College COVID-19 Reporting Project newsletter.
In a public statement, campus officials simply said social distancing guidelines “were not followed.” Initially the college said as many as 155 people were being quarantined in Loomis, but students said some of their peers had left campus to return home after the lockdown was announced. According to Penzel, Loomis residents are allowed to quarantine at home.
“The one thing that we ask is everybody keep your distance, wear your mask, wait till you get your test,” Santos said, calling them “the three things that would have prevented all of this.”
Like plenty of other dorms on campus, Loomis doesn’t have air conditioning, but campus officials have provided fans for Loomis residents.
Some students pass the time by participating in informal Zoom workout sessions, playing board games, doing puzzles, watching the television show “Grey’s Anatomy,” or playing the ukulele. The school is delivering entertainment kits to each room that include materials for activities like painting and crochet.
Friends from other dorms have come to talk to the quarantined through open windows.
“I feel like the last five months have prepared us for more quarantine,” said Loomis resident Doré Young, a first year from Portland, Oregon. “Everyone’s learning how to keep busy a little bit better.”
Students can leave their room to use the bathroom or fill a water bottle, but they must wear a mask.
Penzel said administrators encouraged residents to use the restroom “just for necessity.”
Food comes once a day from CC staff dressed in what Young describes as “hazmat suits,” which include N-95 masks, face shields, gloves and surgical-type gowns. It takes five people about two hours to complete the deliveries. Tuesday’s provisions included macaroni and cheese, cookies and soda. Some students said they were still hungry, so snacks, such as fresh fruit, are now available, and mail deliveries also began Tuesday, said Bethany Grubbs who directs residential life at CC.
Grubbs says the college is trying to support the students in quarantine and advocate for their needs. Still, students say they can’t help but worry about how the school year will play out.
“If this happened within the first 24 hours of me being at school, how is the rest of college going to look?” Penzel said. “Every time someone gets a positive result, are we all going to go into quarantine like this?”
Miriam Brown, Arielle Gordon, and Isabel Hicks are students at Colorado College. Some of the reporting for this story originally appeared in The Colorado College COVID-19 Reporting Project, a student-faculty collaborative newsletter on campus.