Fall Masks

 

Students who’ve quarantined on campus due to COVID-19 have faced numerous hardships in the semester’s first two weeks, including no transportation, non-existent security in the quarantine dorms, inconsistent testing, and sometimes, no food.

UF students — COVID-19 positive or not — said they’re left with minimal guidance and little to no help when it comes to quarantining, and the university didn’t start addressing their concerns until as late as Thursday.

As of Sunday afternoon, 857 people are quarantined because of COVID-19 cases across UF’s campus. UF offers access to on-campus quarantining facilities for students with housing contracts who test positive and those they come in close contact with, said UF’s spokesperson Steve Orlando. 

But, despite on-campus isolation being complimentary for those with housing contracts, some students are abandoning UF’s housing and opting to finish quarantine elsewhere. 

Students who test positive for COVID-19 are housed separately from students who have been exposed but haven’t tested positive according to the student quarantine FAQ.  

For COVID-19 positive students, the on-campus isolation facility is Lakeside Complex building two, while Riker Hall is for those who came in close contact with students who tested positive, but haven’t tested positive themselves according to students who’ve been quarantined. Trusler Hall is also an isolation dorm, but it is unclear for whom.

Graduate family housing can also be used for students who have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive person, but is not the primary choice, wrote Hessy Fernandez, UF director of issues management and crisis communications, in an email.

Residents of sorority and fraternity houses who test positive are being told to quarantine at local hotels, Orlando said. The cost of the hotel room is paid for by either the student or their chapter.

UF’s Screen, Test and Protect, the university task force that aims to handle COVID-19 on campus, will notify the students who must quarantine. 

But the first hurdle is getting themselves there. 

Transportation and moving to the dorm

Sometimes, UF isn’t the first to notify students of potential exposure.

Kaiana Kibler, an 18-year-old UF aerospace engineering freshman, called UF Screen, Test and Protect after learning her roommate tested positive Sept. 1. During her call, she said she was told she may have to quarantine, and a few hours later, she said she received another call telling her to be at the isolation dorm within two hours.

Kibler said she wasn’t told what to bring nor given any assistance or transportation to help her move from Hume Hall to Riker Hall — she didn’t even know where Riker Hall was.

In order to get to the dorm, Kibler hitched a ride with her two suitemates — one of whom had a car — who were also identified as contacts. Neha Iyer, one of Kibler’s suitemates, also moved into Riker Hall that evening.

“I was not offered any assistance moving my belongings,” said Iyer, an 18-year-old UF microbiology freshman. “Carrying a suitcase and a couple bags and making sure I had the right necessities and everything — I could not carry them.”

Upon arrival, she said she received a key to her empty room and papers with further instructions. Among them was a list of suggested items she should’ve brought, including 14 days’ worth of clothes — students don’t have access to washers or dryers, the isolation guide reads — a pillow, bedsheets, towels and any personal toiletries.

“They gave us a list of what we should’ve packed after we arrived, which was obviously unhelpful,” she said. 

The list of items to bring is now provided to students in the quarantine FAQ, but Kibler said she was not given this prior to quarantining.

Greg Karcz, an 18-year-old UF computer science freshman, said he tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 5. 

Not having a car, Karcz said he would have had to drag his belongings about two miles from Cypress Hall to Lakeside Complex, a west-campus residence hall that’s almost a mile away from the nearest dorms, in the afternoon heat — all while sick with COVID-19. The only alternative was taking a bus, calling on a ride-sharing service, or riding with a friend — all of which would risk infecting others.

“I told them that I don’t want to infect my friends or infect an Uber driver,” he said. “They were like ‘Yeah, I know that’s a problem — I guess just walk there.’”

Karcz wasn’t showing any symptoms at the time, but with all of his bags and boxes, he had no other choice but to take an Uber. He said he wore a mask.

Holly, a 41-year-old Uber driver who preferred not to share her last name for safety reasons, has been an Uber driver in Gainesville for almost a year. She said when the app routes her to pick someone up from a testing site, she often cancels the ride. 

Uber drivers are allowed to do this if they feel they are at risk of danger or infection, Holly said. 

“I have no health insurance, so I try to limit exposure,” Holly, who is being treated for other medical issues, said.

Holly said she didn’t drive during the 45-day stay at home order in March and April, but feels mostly safe doing so now. She said she believes that masks help a lot with exposure, and she always sanitizes her car.

“We are all being forced to work in our new condition, and most are wearing masks,” Holly said. “I don't want to get sick and I don't think my passengers do either.”

UF created GatorLift Express last week to transport students on campus to designated isolation and quarantine sites, Fernandez wrote. 

UF Transportation and Parking Services operates the service, which is available seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

GatorLift has existed for more than 25 years, providing rides on campus for disabled and mobility challenged members of the UF community, predominantly students, Fernandez said. GatorLift Express was born and named last week specifically to transport students to isolation and quarantine locations. 

But for students like Alondra Arce, a 19-year-old UF sustainability studies sophomore, GatorLift Express didn’t exist when she went into quarantine on Tuesday. She said she hadn’t heard of it until after she had gotten into the quarantine dorms. 

Arce said she had no safe way of getting to UF’s quarantine dorms on Tuesday without exposing anyone.

She said she took a Lyft, which she felt put people unnecessarily at risk.

Arce created an online petition for UF to provide safe travel to quarantine dorms on September 6, which has 723 signatures as of Sunday.

After she made the petition, Arce emailed dean of students Heather White and UF President Kent Fuchs about her petition but said she never received a response. She said she did, however, hear about the creation of GatorLift Express shortly after, which she feels was in response to complaints about transportation.

“UF has done some great things to help mitigate the spread of the virus, Arce said. “But UF also has had its shortcomings and I think we should try to accomplish solutions for that.” 

Fernandez said students need to maintain a physical distance of 6 feet minimum from the driver, wear masks and gloves and provide a clear pickup location. She also said they must use only the rear entry door to the vehicle, and sit in the seats furthest to the rear; and need to self-board, self-disembark, and handle their luggage and belongings on their own.

Ella Bennett, an 19-year-old UF electrical engineering sophomore, said the last time she took the RTS bus, she saw no more than three of 10 passengers wearing their masks correctly. 

“There are students who are exposed or positive, continuing to use public buses, how does the university think that's going to work? It’s only going to spread it more,” Bennett said. “I know that would freak me out if I was the driver.”

Bennett said she was originally supposed to live on-campus in Buckman Hall, but decided to live off-campus because she didn’t want to be exposed to COVID-19. She said she uses the bus system because it’s accessible, but now feels uneasy now because she saw people wearing masks incorrectly. 

“If UF wanted students to come back and pay dorm fees, they need to have a better plan, and they need to be more prepared,” Bennett said. 

Testing

During her quarantine, Kaiana Kibler said she called UF Screen, Test and Protect for days trying to get tested, but she said responses to her inquiries were inconsistent. 

After being told she’d receive a call about testing Sept. 2, her phone never rang. Then she was told she’d receive a call before 11 a.m. the next day, but she still didn’t hear back.

Kibler and her suitemate Neha Iyer did ultimately get tested on the afternoon of Sept. 3. But, they were both surprised to hear that they were getting tested at Hume, the dorm they were supposed to be quarantining away from.

They were unsupervised on their walk from Riker Hall to Hume Hall for testing, so they could’ve gone anywhere they wanted, Kibler said.

They were tested in Hume Hall’s third-floor common area with other students from the floor who weren’t in quarantine, she said. She didn’t believe the other Hume residents were aware that she and the other Riker students were supposed to be quarantined.

Kibler and Iyer tested negative — they received their results a day and two days later, respectively — and have both opted to finish the quarantine period in their hometowns. 

Iyer said she isn’t sure if she will return to Gainesville this semester.

“Their testing protocol could be greatly improved, because I feel like the first thing they should've done was test me,” Kibler said.

Greg Karcz, who tested positive, faced similar issues with getting additional testing; he was told to get a test at the Student Health Care Center Monday, but after finding out a bus route passing by Lakeside was no longer running, he missed his test that morning.

After initially testing positive Sept. 5, he said he hasn’t been provided another test as of Saturday afternoon.

UF plans on expanding testing beyond the Student Health Care Center and the Hull Road testing site, said Fernandez. UF plans to continue pop-up dorm testing as well. 

“Locations will vary by day to increase access for all students to get tested,” the email read. “There will be options closer to on-campus isolation and quarantine spaces.”

Security and quarantine enforcement

Kibler, Iyer and Karcz all said their quarantine dorms had little to no enforcement of quarantine policies. Anybody who is supposed to be isolating can walk between floors freely and even exit the dorm and walk onto campus.

UF uses data from quarantined students’ key fobs, devices that allow residents into the dorms, to monitor their movement during quarantine, wrote Fernandez, UF’s Director of Issues Management and Crisis Communications. Other than leaving the dorm for testing or meal deliveries, she said violation of quarantine may become a conduct issue with the university.

She also said the dorms will have staff monitoring students’ movement.

But Karcz said his quarantine dorm roommate — whom he has two of, because COVID-19 positive students are put into three-bedroom apartments in Lakeside — has exited and entered the dorm without any supervision.

“Nobody monitors anything,” he said. “It feels like quarantine by choice.”

Food and Amenities 

Karcz, who is quarantined in Lakeside, is on a declining balance, meaning he has money allotted for food through his UF account, but not an official meal plan. For the last two weeks, students who didn’t have meal plans were left in a precarious position when it came to feeding themselves.

At first, he was told he couldn’t use his balance to buy food; instead, he was told to get food through Uber Eats or walk to UF’s Field and Fork Pantry, which is 1.5 miles from Lakeside.

Up until Wednesday night, Karcz said he was forced to figure out meal deliveries on his own, solely using Uber Eats to feed himself.

This contradicts UF’s July 10 reopening plan, which said all students quarantined on campus would be given access to food and other amenities during their isolation. There was no mention of needing a meal plan in order to be fed during on-campus quarantine.

“During that time, the student will be provided with food, sundries, counseling and other services as needed,” the plan read.

On Friday, Fernandez wrote in an email that UF will provide meal delivery for students without meal plans. She said students will receive an email four hours after they go into quarantine detailing meal delivery options.

Students without meal plans will be offered a supplemental dining plan through Gator Dining, according to UF’s quarantine FAQ. This supplemental dining plan will cost $25 a day, despite UF’s July 10 reopening plan never indicating students would have to pay for food while in quarantine.

Fernandez said those quarantining off campus will receive a link giving them access to UF’s Food Assistance Program, where students are allotted a certain number of points every week, which they cash in for meals.

Since Wednesday, Karcz has been able to receive food deliveries through the school using his declining balance, paying $25 a day.

Neha Iyer, who was quarantining in Riker Hall and also doesn’t have a meal plan, said she didn’t feel safe in the dorm’s communal kitchens or bathrooms.

“I had no food, and they didn’t really have a plan for what to do,” Iyer said. “I don’t feel safe using the kitchen, so I brought a few snacks, like a bag of oranges.”

Employees dropped off each night’s dinner and the following day’s breakfast and lunch in the dorm’s first-floor kitchen. Quarantined students — on all floors of Riker Hall — are expected to leave their rooms, go to the first floor and sort through the food themselves. 

“My main issue with the food so far is that a lot of it has to be refrigerated, and we have to share a communal fridge,” Kibler said. 

She said the rooms in Riker don’t have refrigerators or kitchens, so quarantined students are expected to use the communal kitchens on their floors to store and prepare their food. 

In response to student’s concerns about communal kitchens, UF began distributing personal mini fridges into Riker Hall’s isolation rooms Friday, said Arce, a quarantined student. 

But, Kibler’s main safety concern was Riker’s communal bathrooms, which she said are completely unregulated, meaning multiple people are allowed to use the bathroom at the same time. 

Iyer said she knew people who weren’t taking showers during quarantine because they didn’t feel comfortable using the communal bathrooms. She described the bathrooms as unclean and said she limited her use of them, too.

Kibler said the bathrooms seem to be cleaned once a day, usually in the morning.

“I’m just really uncomfortable with the communal spaces,” she said. “If I didn’t already have COVID by the contact, I think I would get it here.”

Contact Anna at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Anna_Wilderr.

Digital Editor

Anna is a rising sophomore majoring in journalism on a pre-law track. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors and at the beach, doing yoga or cooking. She hopes to pursue a career in investigative journalism or become a civil rights lawyer.

Staff Writer

Thomas Weber is the health reporter for the Alligator. He is a junior journalism major at UF who has previously interned for the Gainesville Sun.