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Friday, August 12, 2022

I was isolated in Riker Hall: A plea for a safer campus

opinions graphic generic
opinions graphic generic

I woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head and found my way downstairs to urgent care.

I wish I woke up being as up-beat as Paul McCartney in “A Day in the Life.” However, I woke up on Labor Day achy and feeling sick. “Oh great,” I thought, “here we go,” realizing the encroachment the world of COVID-19 would have on my day (more than usual).

In a perfect world, I would have immediately scheduled a COVID-19 test with UF, but we are far from that. I scoured the UF website for probably thirty minutes, just to schedule a test. I called my first of 12 UF representatives that day, who directed me to email UF Student Screening for a test. Their response came two hours later, directing me to resubmit a questionnaire I completed in August.

By the time that response came, I had already trekked the 1.5 mile bike ride off-campus to Care Spot Urgent Care. The doctor instructed me, as a first-year student from Colorado, to find a way to quarantine in Simpson Hall, a traditional style residence hall, a petri-dish with myself as someone with a possible COVID infection.

It was up to me to then call UF Screen, Test, and Protect once more. It was up to me to report my symptoms. Upon reporting my symptoms, I was informed that I was a suspected case, and needed to await my test results in quarantine at Riker Hall. If I wanted to, I could have ignored my sore throat on Monday morning, gone to eat breakfast inside the dining hall, shower and brush my teeth in the communal bathroom (all without a mask). If I wanted to, I could’ve not reported my conducting of a COVID-19 test. Totally optional.

I understand how difficult it must be to run an institution at this moment. However, lives are at risk. Cleaners, dining hall workers, students and faculty are all being put in harm’s way. To make testing an optional procedure? Downright despicable.

At around 2 p.m. on Monday, I heaved two giant bags of luggage down the stairs of Simpson Hall and up the stairs of Riker, and thus began my 48 hour stay in Riker Hall. I had two windows, a communal bathroom, a creaky old desk with graffiti from Florida’s past plastered upon it and a large tiled floor.

Does it feel like home? Well, it is about as much fun as you would expect. I was allowed no physical contact, except maybe if you count the surfaces within the communal bathrooms. Riker Hall is used as an isolation space; students are moved from Riker Hall to other locations on campus upon receiving a positive test result.

Now, I know what you are wondering, how is the food? We received one brown bag of food filled with three meals and a snack delivered to the common room each day. The university supplies a hot meal for dinner, a snack, waters and two cold meals to be stored for breakfast and lunch the following day. When staff members realized I didn’t have access to refrigeration for these meals, they promised to provide it the night I left.

I spent two nights in Riker Hall and received a negative test result on Tuesday. I was instructed to receive one more negative test result in order to be cleared to return to campus. I once again made the trek to Care Spot and received another test on Tuesday night. The following morning, I received a phone call informing me I was cleared to return to campus.

Riker isolation is lonely at times with three desks and four dressers as roommates. I appreciate my friends’ efforts to wave from outside and to FaceTime me from across the country. Isolation definitely puts things into perspective. You find yourself pining for another dining hall meal and another socially distant walk. The moment of euphoria I experienced upon leaving the dorm is something I hope you do not actually experience, because it is predicated on lacking, similar to being stranded on a deserted island.

Apart from the communal bathroom “contact,” my isolation at Riker Hall was close to the best the university can do. I appreciate the efforts of staff to clean the bathrooms once daily and to deliver meals. My experience may not make self-reporting symptoms seem like an advantageous proposition. But it is still the right thing to do. If you are feeling ill, stay inside. Please, for the safety of others and for yourself, get tested if you are having symptoms or are in contact with someone who does. We are in this fight together and must watch out for the safety and well-being of one another.

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William Munro is a telecommunications freshman.

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