‘I got my test results seven days after I showed symptoms’: Students worried the University can’t stop an outbreak

One first-year student calls isolation residences “an extreme quarantine”

The University isn’t sharing how many students have been in an isolation residence since they opened up earlier this month.
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Nick, whose name has been changed for safety reasons, is a first-year engineering student living in residence who developed COVID-19 symptoms on Sept. 14. He was moved into the isolation residence at David C. Smith Hall the next day.

To prevent the spread of the virus, students living in residence who self-identify as having symptoms of COVID-19 or test positive for the virus are moved to an isolation space until they receive direction from a healthcare professional to cease isolation.

The University has allocated 136 beds in Smith and 90 in the JDUC for isolation requirements.

“On Monday night, I felt like I had a sore throat and a cough—the symptoms of COVID-19, but no fever,” Nick told The Journal. “The next day, I called to find out where to get tested.”

“They told me I had to go to an isolation residence because I was showing symptoms.”

He moved that night and tried to book an appointment for a COVID-19 test at the University’s satellite testing centre in Mitchell Hall. The next available appointment was on Thursday.

“I called Tuesday and the earliest appointment was Thursday—which is concerning,” Nick said, adding that all of his symptoms went away on Wednesday before he was able to get tested.

He described the testing centre as “disorganized,” though he acknowledged it was only its second day of operation when he visited the centre.

READ MORE: Student in residence tests positive for COVID-19

“We were placed in a room where we’re all waiting, not really spaced out a full two-metres,” Nick said. “Some of the staff weren’t wearing proper PPE, just a face mask.”

As an out of province student, he was instructed to call back two days later to get his results.

“I called Saturday, and there was no one answering the phones,” Nick said. “They’re all closed during the weekends. I couldn’t get my results on the weekend and that’s concerning in the sense where if someone tests positive they can’t find out until the weekend is over.”

“The virus doesn’t take breaks on the weekends. You’re trying to stop an ongoing pandemic, an outbreak at Queen’s.”

He spent the rest of the weekend in isolation, which he said operates on an “honour system.”

Students who arrive at Smith House are given a code via email to open a lockbox and get a fob for entering the building. Then, they are asked to take the elevator upstairs to their assigned room and open another lockbox with a fob for the building and their room.

Nick added there’s “no security in any sense” in the isolation residences that would prevent someone from leaving the building.

“If someone had COVID-19, they could leave, party all night, and come back,” Nick said.

READ MORE: Queen’s prepares for an outbreak with new Incident Command Structure

He noticed there were three or four other people in his wing of the building and said there were “probably” 12 people in total on his floor.

When The Journal asked the University how many students had been placed in isolation residences since they opened, Leah Wales, executive director of Housing and Ancillary Services, said it’s not sharing the numbers with the public.

“We are not reporting the numbers of students doing this as some people may conflate these figures with positive COVID-19 results,” Wales wrote. “The University will report on positive cases.”

The University confirmed one student living in residence tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 24.

She added that “affected students, Dons and staff” will be contacted about known positive cases.

“[T]he ability to isolate those feeling unwell, during testing or following a positive test is a critical part of the residence occupancy plan developed with advice from KFL&A Public Health,” Wales wrote.

Nick said food was delivered once a day at 5 p.m., which included one hot meal and some sandwiches and snacks to last until the next day. He said it was “a lot of junk food,” but “you could get all your nutrients” from the selection.

“With the isolation residences, they’re doing the best they can, but it’s kind of designed in a way where students won’t be honest about if they have symptoms after hearing about all of the situations—how people are getting locked up for six days in a small room,” Nick said.

READ MORE: Queen’s declares remote winter term

Wales told The Journal that students in isolation are “contacted daily” as part of a protocol to ensure their welfare and all feedback that can help “make things better” is taken into consideration.

Nick said first-year students could see isolation residences as “a big waste of time” because the process of getting test results back is slow and inefficient.

“It’s mentally very numbing because you’re alone and it’s an extreme quarantine because you can’t see [anyone while you’re there,]” Nick said. “They’d rather just isolate in their own residence and wait it out.”

He said he knows three other students who have chosen to isolate in their own rooms until their symptoms went away because “they’d rather have their friends order them food.”

On Monday, Nick was informed that his test results were negative and moved out of isolation.

“I got my test results seven days after I showed symptoms,” Nick said. “It was a bad storm—not getting tested right away, getting tested close to a weekend—but still quite concerning to be seven days after [portraying] symptoms.”

“The point is to stop people from spreading it, to stop the chain—how do you stop the chain after seven days? […] I don’t see Queen’s stopping [an outbreak in residence] because of the rate [at which] people are getting tested.”

He said the friends he’d been in close contact with also developed symptoms during the week he was in isolation.

“By then, all of my friends, ones I shared joints with, they were sharing symptoms and they weren’t sure if it was COVID-19 or not. They didn’t want to get put in isolation so they didn’t say anything.”

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