SU students describe quarantine experience as isolating but fulfilling

SU students document quarantine experience

Syracuse University students who quarantined this semester after exposure to COVID-19 said it was difficult to miss out on events this semester, but felt it was important to keep their peers safe.
Published: December 6, 2020

Gabby Kepnes, a magazine, newspaper and digital journalism freshman, is one of the hundreds of Syracuse University students who quarantined during the fall 2020 semester.

Last year, Gabrielle Kepnes celebrated her birthday with her friends in New York City and had a large dinner with her family. This year, she spent it alone in a hotel room with Zoom calls and packages as her only source of human interaction.

“I know that there couldn’t be much to do this year anyways because of coronavirus, but I like spending my birthday with my friends. I was looking forward to that before I went to quarantine,” she said.

Kepnes, a magazine, newspaper and digital journalism freshman, is one of the hundreds of Syracuse University students who quarantined for two weeks during the fall 2020 semester after experiencing potential exposure or contracting COVID-19.

To ensure students abided by federal public health guidelines, SU’s contact tracers and Onondaga County health officials instructed students who were exposed to quarantine for 14 days, which is also part of the university’s coronavirus response strategy.

Students who quarantined or are currently in quarantine this semester said while it was difficult to miss out on many significant events, they felt relieved to have more time on their hands and felt taking precautions to keep their peers safe was of paramount importance.

“I didn’t expect there to be so much more emotional and mentally challenging parts of it because you’re not able to go outside and get fresh air, and you’re not able to see anyone in person,” Kepnes said. “It really did affect me. And it was lonely, obviously.”

Kepnes quarantined in the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel & Conference Center after she was exposed. SU students quarantined in their off-campus apartments, in the Sheraton Hotel or Skyhall residence all, and as of November, SU’s South Campus apartments.

For some students, the mandate to quarantine prevented them from returning home to their families for winter break and as a result, they spent Thanksgiving in their college apartments.

Julia Forschino, a public relations junior, remained in isolation until Nov. 25 after contracting COVID-19 and spent Thanksgiving in her apartment bedroom, while on Zoom with her family.

Forschino said isolation meant she could not come into contact with anyone including her roommates and had to wear a mask when she used the kitchen. She said the hardest part about isolation was that she didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to any of her friends before they returned for winter break.

“I had to yell goodbye to my roommate this morning through my bedroom wall. I had to sit in my bed while I said goodbye,” she said. “I had a lot of the plans that had to be canceled and I couldn’t see anyone. Now everyone’s home for two months, and I couldn’t say goodbye to them.”

Forschino said quarantine was also beneficial because it allowed her to take a 14-day break after a stressful semester.

“I’ve been saying for a week, ‘I’m so drained. I just need a break,’” she said, “and I really got what I asked for. I had so much time on my hands. I kind of got to relax a little bit. Take some time for myself.”

For Ryan Arbogast, a broadcast digital journalism and political science senior, his requirement ends on Dec. 2 after almost one month in quarantine and two consecutive exposures.

Arbogast said it has been difficult to be physically confined in his room for many consecutive days when he used to play tennis almost every day as a member of the club tennis team and teach the sport on SU’s South Campus. He’s also struggled with the lack of human interaction, especially from his roommates who are also quarantining in their rooms.

“I’m a very codependent person,” he said. “I need to be around people all the time. I’m very talkative. So, it’s not great. It’s exactly what you would think if you’re stuck alone for two weeks.”

Arbogast said the worst part of quarantine is that he cannot spend the final days of the fall semester with friends. He said he wants to spend as much time as possible with his peers before he graduates in May.

“The end of the semester is usually the time that you do your most to spend the time with your friends,” he said. “I want to spend as much time as I can with the people that I might not see when I move away and graduate. I think the worst part of it all is just not being able to see the people you care about before you might not for a long time.”

Ella Paz, a junior advertising student who quarantined with her roommate from the end of October to the beginning of November, documented her experience to help pass the time.

Ella Paz, a junior advertising student who quarantined with her roommate from the end of October to the beginning of November, said the experience felt quick when she had class, but felt longer on the weekends when she had more time on her hands. Paz made a video for a project documenting her experience in quarantine, which she said helped pass the time.

Although she struggled with the lack of outdoor time, Paz said quarantine helped her pick up new hobbies.

“I try to look at it like half glass full,” she said. “I think that quarantine, as a whole, is a reason to pick up new hobbies or find interests. I just feel like I’ve done more things that I wasn’t able to.”

Kepnes also made a video for her class to document her entire experience in the Sheraton Hotel. She said she enjoyed ordering food from various Syracuse restaurants; however, she felt sad and excluded to miss significant events such as the first snow of the 2020-21 academic year and Halloween.

“I know there are a lot worse things in life. So, I have actually got over it. But I think in the moment, it was hard to sort of forget about it when in the back of my head, I knew that people were enjoying themselves and I was just by myself,” she said.

Despite all the events they missed, students said quarantine was worth it to prevent the spread of coronavirus and keep their peers safe.

Forschino said it’s important to quarantine because one is never sure whether they have contracted the coronavirus and cannot predict when they’ll be exposed.

“I thought I didn’t need to quarantine. I thought, ‘I was just exposed. I’m fine.’ And I ended up getting it. So, if I hadn’t listened, I would have been walking around giving it to people, and then I would have felt awful,” she said. “There’s definitely a need for it. Yes, it sucks, but it’s two weeks of your life. It sucks. But I got through it.”