A look into life in quarantine and isolation at Iowa State University

An Iowa State student’s isolation dorm in Linden Hall. 

Mallory Tope

Starting the school year stuck inside a dorm room unable to leave the building or have any visitors is what many Iowa State students are experiencing in quarantine and isolation due to COVID-19.  

The Department of Residence, ISU Dining and Thielen Health Center have all worked together to help students adjust to quarantine and isolation. Students in isolation and quarantine discuss their experience and what helped them while being quarantined for 14 days. 

Incoming freshman have been experiencing Iowa State differently than years before. Gwen Costello, a freshman in animal science, moved in Aug. 4 and went through the same move-in process that every student living on campus was required to go through. Costello was tested at Lied Recreation Center before being given her dorm room key. 

Costello received an email later that night saying she had tested positive for COVID-19 and to stay in her dorm room until she was contacted by someone from Thielen Health Center. 

Costello said she was moved to Linden that night from her dorm in Friley and was given instructions on what to do and how to order meals.

Costello did not have any symptoms of COVID-19 for her 10-day isolation period. Costello said she spent most of her time FaceTiming her younger sisters while in isolation. 

“I think Iowa State did a great job at accommodating us to the best of their abilities, which is all that they are able to do,” Costello said.  

Evelyn, an Iowa State student who asked to exclude her last name for privacy reasons, had a different experience while in quarantine. Evelyn was notified on a Friday that she had had contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Evelyn and her roommate called Thielen Health Center and were told they were unable to be tested until Monday and to quarantine in their dorm room until then.

Evelyn and her roommate quarantined in their dorm room over the weekend, only leaving when necessary to get to-go food from a dining hall. They were moved to Elm on the Monday they were tested. 

“The rooms aren’t the cleanest; I cleaned everything before I unpacked, but the bathrooms are nice,” Evelyn said.

Evelyn said she used school as a distraction, and having friends who were able to text her helped her not feel so alone while quarantined.

“It’s hard being in here all alone; it’s hard being in an enclosed space by yourself…It’s not ideal, but it’s for the safety of others,” Evelyn said.

Evelyn said when her test results came back, it was unclear if she was positive or negative. She was retested and is waiting for her results in quarantine. 

“I think the fact that we called in on Friday and they told us to still quarantine, that was a little bit frustrating,” Evelyn said. “I think that if they really think that coronavirus is that big of an issue, they should probably be testing early on Saturday or help deliver food to dorms so we don’t leave and put other people at risk.” 

According to Kristen Obbink, Iowa State’s COVID-19 public health coordinator, “Students should self-quarantine while waiting for results, they should wear face-coverings and ensure they remain 6 feet away from others when using public facilities.” 

The process for students once they test positive or are deemed as close contact is fairly simple on the students’ end, according to Thielen Health Center, and is explained to students in an email. 

The student is then given the instructions to pack what they will need for 10 to 14 days. Once the student is packed, movers in protective equipment then help the student move their things and themself to Linden, Oak or Elm halls.  

Rooms are equipped with standard dorm furniture along with a microwave and refrigerator. If requested, students can receive a fan, since Linden, Oak and Elm are not air-conditioned. 

Oak and Elm resident halls were supposed to be closed for the 2020-2021 academic year due to the high number of vacancies and budget cuts. Oak and Elm were converted to house students in quarantine after the Department of Residence learned students would be returning to campus. 

The Department of Residence has been helping students in quarantine and isolation adjust to the new environment. 

“Once the health center notifies the Department of Residence, we engage movers to come to get the student and their stuff and take the student to the isolation or quarantine dorm,” said Brittney Rutherford, communications manager of the residence halls. 

Rutherford said there is someone available 24/7 for students to call if they need anything. 

There are 250 spaces in quarantine housing and 150 spaces in isolation housing for students. As of Aug. 31, isolation housing is at 31.4 percent capacity and quarantine housing is at 18.2 percent capacity, according to the Iowa State COVID-19 Public Health Data update. The Department of Residence encourages students to return home if possible. 

“There is also the option to go home; that is always an option for anyone in isolation or quarantine,” Rutherford said. 

ISU dining has been helping provide students with contactless meals and snacks. ISU Dining provides a 24-pack of water, along with some type of snack, such as crackers or popcorn, for students when they arrive in their room. 

While students are in quarantine or isolation, their food is delivered to them without contact. Students order their food on the GET app. If students do not have a dining plan, there are alternative ways for them to pay for meals.

“Students’ meals come out of their dining plan, and for students that do not have a dining plan, they can purchase one or add a credit card to the GET app,” said Michelle Rupert, interim associate director of Campus Dining Services.   

ISU Dining closed Conversations dining hall to allow students to order to-go meals on the GET app along with an easy place to get meals for students in isolation or quarantine. 

“Over the summer, ISU Dining worked to create a plan to use Conversations dining hall as a designated place for students in isolation or quarantine to get their food from,” Rupert said. “Since Oak and Elm are right above Conversations, it works out well.” 

Students are instructed to order their lunch and dinner for that day and their breakfast for the following day between 7:30 and 10 a.m. Students are also told to leave their building and room number in the comment section when ordering. Students are allowed to have food delivered as long as it is contactless.

If students do not find food that fits their dietary needs, students can contact a special dietitian to help find food they can eat, Rupert said. 

“We want to help students in any way that we can while they are in quarantine or isolation,” Rutherford said.