‘It was like a ghost town’: Inside Queen’s isolation residence

Students from Watts Hall outbreak discuss poor food quality, limited access to water, academic impact

One student took a photo of the food they'd received from Queen's.
One student took a photo of the food they'd received from Queen's.

Queen’s isolation residence is mandatory for students living in residence who are being tested for COVID-19; however, some students are concerned about the food and water quality and academic impact of isolation.

Through conversations with two students who were living on the third floor of Watts
Hall—Watts 3—when the University declared an outbreak of COVID-19, The Journal got a glimpse into Queen’s isolation residence, David C. Smith House (Smith).

The University identified an outbreak in Watts Hall on March 11, after five students on the third floor tested positive for COVID-19. Watts went into lockdown that day, and all the students on the floor were immediately moved into isolation. Though the JDUC was also designated an isolation residence, the University told The Journal it hasn’t yet been used.

Five more cases in residence plus 10 cases off-campus were identified that week. From March 15 to 21, four more cases were reported in residence and 56 off-campus. 

Thomas Jarko, ArtSci ’24, said he was told there was an outbreak on his floor around noon on March 10, after his friend tested positive for COVID-19 earlier that morning. Five or six of the students on Jarko’s floor had attended the same party with his friend, who lives off-campus, on March 5.

When The Journal inquired about whether the off-campus cases are related to the campus outbreak, Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health said the cases on campus are “still under investigation.”

Jarko said he received an email from ResLife around 2 p.m. on March 10 telling him to pack enough belongings for 14 days and move into Smith. He was tested for COVID-19 at the Student Wellness Services (SWS) COVID-19 testing centre in Mitchell Hall before he moved.

That night, after a few hours in isolation, his test came back negative—he hadn’t attended the party with the student who tested positive. 

ResLife emailed Jarko at 11:30 p.m. to say he could leave Smith at midnight. He returned to Watts and spent the night there, but woke up on March 11 to more emails telling him to go back to Smith—so he returned to isolation.
Three days into isolation, KFL&A Public Health started sending personnel into Smith to test the students in isolation. Jarko tested negative for COVID-19 that day, and again a week later. 

The students from Watts who tested positive were allowed to leave the isolation residence on March 19 and 20. However, Jarko had to stay in isolation until March 25 because symptoms can take 14 days to arise. He was originally told he could leave March 19.

“It’s like, that’s the third time you’ve told me the wrong date now,” he told The Journal. “That was a really bad weekend for me. I really didn’t want to stay here. I really didn’t want to go through all that. I barely touched schoolwork. I really couldn’t do much.”

Students in isolation are generally not allowed to leave their room—doing so results in an immediate write-up and is cause for expulsion. Starting on March 18, however, students were allowed to book daily, monitored 30-minute outdoor time.

Food is delivered every day around 5 p.m., Jarko said. Students receive a hot dinner and a cold breakfast and lunch for the next day. 

Dinner is usually a protein, a carbohydrate, and a vegetable, with chips, a pudding cup, cheese, and a piece of fruit; breakfast consists of a pastry product, some fruit, cottage cheese, and juice; and lunch is a sandwich or salad with pop, more chips, and pudding cups.

Jarko said that, originally, the food distribution was “really messy” and several students missed meals, especially their first one. He said the hot food has improved over time, though.

“At the start of the time here we got one dinner and it was very mushy chicken and potatoes and corn, and it looked like puke and it was disgusting,” he said. “[But] it’s gotten better to the point where yesterday we got fried pork balls with chicken fried rice and that was really good.”

Jarko added the snacks have become more sugary; he’s received lots of cookies, sugary cereal, and multiple cans of Coke per meal.

“I’m like, I really don’t want to eat this, give me something that’s healthy for me,” he said. 
In an email to The Journal, Leah Wales, executive director of Housing & Ancillary Services, said the University knows being asked to isolate is “not easy,” and that Residence and Hospitality staff “are working hard to make the experience as smooth as possible for everyone.”

“On Thursday, March 11, a large number of students had to go into isolation quickly. This rapid move led to some delays delivering meals that day and Friday,” she said. 

“We immediately increased our staffing, the frequency of meal delivery, added more equipment for hot food transportation and have been delivering added snacks and special treats, as well as large water containers.”
Jarko said the University’s response to the outbreak “definitely could have been better.” He said there’s also been issues with Wi-Fi access, maintenance, and water—he said the tap water ran cloudy, and bottled water wasn’t delivered to students until four or five days in.

Natalie Lane, ArtSci ’24, who also lives on Watts 3, tested negative for COVID-19 and was put into isolation in Smith on March 10. 

“It was like a ghost town,” she told The Journal. “I kind of knew Smith as the quarantine building, and […] as soon as I walked through the doors, I was like, alright, this is it.”

Like Jarko, Lane spoke to the poor food quality and limited access to water, and the effect
isolation had on her schoolwork.

“I was just so beyond stressed […] I didn’t do any work. It was really difficult to focus, it was very difficult to stay motivated,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was being treated properly. Isolation’s a hard thing to do, and I wanted Queen’s to recognize that and give me proper food and water.”

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