When Juan Esquivel, a 19-year-old freshman, tested positive for COVID-19 Jan. 12, he wasn’t offered a quarantine option. UF told him he didn’t have an alternative to leaving campus.
Esquivel said he distinctly remembers the disrespectful tone of the UF housing and residency employee’s voice.
“I let her know that I'm going to try to find a place to stay, and I get told that trying is not enough,” Esquivel said. “I need to get out of there by 5 p.m. or there'll be serious consequences.”
As cases rise and a UF study forecasted a January peak in the state’s reported cases, students have expressed their disenchantment with the current on-campus policy regarding COVID-19 positive students.
UF will no longer provide isolation dorms for students who live on campus for a “proper quarantine or isolation length,” according to UF Health’s Screen Test & Protect. No further information on how long these periods last is available.
Isolation dorms are only available in extenuating circumstances, wrote Sara Tanner, director of the Division of Student Affairs. A limited number are provided to students on the basis of availability, she wrote.
“When needing to isolate, students may communicate a variety of extenuating circumstances, including distance from home, financial difficulties and medical concerns at home,” Tanner wrote.
Tanner and UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldan did not respond to questions regarding a recent Tweet by @AprilMRubin detailing an experience at an isolation dorm this semester and whether it is an accurate representation of current policy in time for publication. They also did not respond to The Alligator in time for publication regarding isolation statistics and policies.
Scrambling to find a place to stay after UF kicked him out, Esquivel said his 21-year-old friend had to check him into a hotel because he couldn’t find one that allowed people under 21 to check-in.
He had a scheduled flight the next day to Tennessee to stay with family, he said. He slept for a single night at a hotel and caught his flight the next morning.
Because he was COVID positive, he used two masks and washed his hands constantly, he said. No one around him tested positive after interacting with him, so he doubted that he would infect strangers. And he didn’t have a choice.
“By my second day in Tennessee, the time recommended to avoid contact would’ve ended,” he wrote in a text.
Instead of catching up on work the day he was kicked out, he had to deal with the situation that had sprung upon him.
“It is a very huge inconvenience that can become a major block in somebody’s semester if it lines up wrong with something,” he said.
Alternatives to this policy should include housing for students who come back positive or financial help to those that need to stay in a hotel, Esquivel said. This would grant students some time to figure out where they can go.
“Arranging to leave Gainesville in five hours is probably not something a lot of people can afford … or do,” he said.
Other students, like Sam Curry, found a way to leave Gainesville before UF could tell them their dorm key fob would be disabled.
Curry, a 19-year-old public health freshman, first lost her sense of taste and smell on Jan. 14.
UF did not have tests available until Jan 18., Curry said. Her mom had to drive up from Deerfield Beach to bring her an at-home rapid test, which came back positive.
She immediately packed her bags and left her Lakeside Complex dorm the same day without notifying UF.
Curry received an email last week from the College of Public Health and Health Professions informing that students who take COVID-19 tests off-campus should call and let them know if it comes back positive.
After getting settled at her home in Deerfield Beach, Curry called UF’s DOH COVID Operations on Jan. 17 informing the representative of her positive status.
During the call, the representative told her it was her responsibility to tell students they were exposed, she said.
“I asked them if I needed to provide names for contact tracing, and they told me that due to the volume of cases, the school is not doing contact tracing,” Curry said. “And that is on the people who are positive to tell everybody.”
A spokesperson for UF DOH COVID Operations refused to make a statement about this aspect of their policy and did not provide their name.
Matthew Cupelli, a 19-year-old media production management and technology freshman, came back positive for COVID-19 Wednesday and received an email the same day that outlined isolation requirements.
The email read that students must monitor their symptoms for 14 days. If the student stays symptom-free through day six, one can schedule a test and be released on or after the eighth isolation day or when the lab result comes back negative.
However, UF did not require a negative test for his campus clearance, Cupelli said. After calling UF for guidance on getting back to campus, he immediately received a cleared status.
Cupelli and his girlfriend, 18-year-old freshman Jamie Beach, tested twice. Their first test, which they both took Jan. 14, was an Abbott at-home test that was being distributed at the Graham Area Help Desk. Cupelli tested positive, but Beach did not.
To receive the tests, the couple had to show their UF ID. Once home, the couple downloaded an app called Navica and got on a video call with a representative who guided them throughout the test-taking process.
After Cupelli’s test came back positive and Beach’s negative, they decided to test at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. This time, both tests came back positive.
Soon after their second test, Beach and Cupelli received emails Jan. 19 saying they needed to leave campus immediately, but they had already left. The email also stated that UF is not required to and does not provide alternative housing, Beach said.
“I also find it interesting … the school does send out regular emails telling you where to get tested, reminding you to get vaccinated and wear masks,” Beach said, “But the school doesn't tell you what to do after that.”
Contact Fernando at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @fernfigue.
Fern is a junior journalism and sustainability studies major. He previously reported for the University and Metro desks. Now, he covers the environmental beat on the Enterprise desk. When he's not reporting, you can find him dancing to house music at Barcade or taking photos on his Olympus.