Behind the closed doors of Quarantine and Isolation Housing

J. Michael Bertsch, Managing Editor


EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this story was published, the university has released a statement beginning with “The SDSU Collegian posted a story today without providing the University an opportunity to respond.” Between the dates of Aug. 19 and Sept. 8, The Collegian attempted to reach university officials six times, but did not receive responses.

DISCLAIMER: Sarah Johnson is a South Dakota State University student and employee. Her name has been changed to ensure her privacy and job security. 

Quarantine and isolation housing (QIH) is being offered for any student who has potentially contracted or been exposed to COVID-19. However, the facilities and care provided for students in QIH fall short of the promises made by the university. 

Sarah Johnson spent 14 days in QIH. This story describes her first-hand experiences. 

“Why don’t you leave your laundry on the street?”

Johnson had to leave her dorm immediately. She didn’t have two weeks worth of clothes to take with her.

“They told me ‘You don’t have time to do laundry, you need to get over there as soon as you can. If you do laundry, you’re going to expose people,’” she said.

After continuing to negotiate a way to get clean clothes to her room, she was offered one possible solution from administration. 

“She told me, ‘Why don’t you leave your laundry on the street by one of your friends’ houses, they can grab it and then they can bring it to housing? When they’re done with it, we will drop it off on Monday for you,’” Johnson said. “I just had someone drop it off for me. I wasn’t going to mess with that.”

“$21 a day for Larsons Leftovers” 

Food for students in QIH is transported from Larson Commons and placed in a communal refrigerator shared by everyone staying on each floor. 

“If I have (COVID-19), and I accidentally touch someone else’s food then they touch it and touch their face? It’s that easy [to spread],” Johnson said. “Once I had my [negative] test results, I felt a lot better about being there. But before I knew I thought, ‘I could literally be spreading this to anybody else who’s living here right now.’”

Though sharing a refrigerator was showing potential problems, it did not prove to be the most damaging issue the residents faced.

“I got there Friday, and we didn’t get more food again ‘til Monday,” Johnson said. “For the whole weekend, we got three of those styrofoam boxes.” 

Each styrofoam box contained one meal worth of food from the Larson Commons cafeteria. Due to the material of the boxes, the students were unable to microwave the food. In addition to the boxed meal, the residents were given pre packaged cereal bowls and granola bars for breakfast.

“They brought a case of water in for the weekend, but when there’s nine or 10 people, a case of water is not enough. Especially people who might be sick,” Johnson said. “We didn’t know if we had it yet either, so I was really trying to stay ahead on my water in case I did have it.” 

After direct complaints to administrators, styrofoam boxes were replaced with microwavable paper boxes and food portions increased from one box a day to two. 

The students in QIH are preparing to potentially combat a debilitating disease, and though portions were slim for all, some were forced to cut a portion of their meal due to unmet dietary needs.

“We just got what we got. I’m not a picky person, but the people there with me had dietary restrictions, and those were not respected at all,” Johnson said. “One of the people staying with me had a dairy allergy, and they got dairy in every single one of their meals, so they just did not eat most of their meals.”

Though staying in QIH is free of charge to the student, the meals they receive are not. 

“Oh, and we were getting charged $21 a day for this food that we barely even ate,” she said. “It was $21 a day for Larson’s leftovers. You know, (Larson Commons) says ‘Taco Tuesday.’ Here, it’s taco Wednesday.”

“You can’t threaten me with behavioral probation because I’m exercising without a mask then make me share a bathroom with other girls.”

Days of isolation obviously lack many traditional comforts, but for students in QIH with Johnson, it lacked basic necessities. 

“For the first three days we didn’t even have shower curtains,” Johnson said. “Luckily I knew some of the girls on my floor so I could text them ‘Hey, I’m going to shower. Please don’t come in because I’m gonna be frickin’ naked in the shower.’”

In addition to a lack of shower curtains, students reported not receiving any bedding, masks or thermometers. Another student could not fit between the concrete walls on either end of their mattress due to their height and was required to put their mattress on the floor to sleep. 

“We ran out of toilet paper on Saturday and we didn’t get any more till Monday,” Johnson said.

According to those in QIH, the administration was holding the students to a higher standard than the space they were housing them in. They received an email from the university stating that, if they did not abide by the strict mask policy, they would be subject to behavioral probation.

“It’s just not effective. It can’t be effective if you’re sharing a space like the bathroom with people,” she said. “You can’t threaten me with behavioral probation because I’m exercising without a mask, then make me share a bathroom with other girls. That doesn’t make sense.”

“I got my first call five days after they told me I’d be getting a counselor call every single day”

According to the JacksRBack COVID-19 Monitoring, Symptoms, Tests and Protocols, unless one is referred to be tested by a medical professional, they are required to pay SDSU for a COVID-19 test. If referred, SDSU will pay for their test using Federal CARES Act funds.

“I had to pay $140 for mine out of my insurance deductible,” Johnson said. “And two people couldn’t even get tested because they couldn’t afford it and they don’t have health insurance.”

Additionally, the JacksRBack Quarantine and Isolation Housing Procedure lists several protocols for both the student and the university. During Johnson’s stay, several of these procedures were not fulfilled and put excess strain on the students.

“I got a call on Friday and they said, ‘a counselor will be reaching out to you every day to check in.’ I thought that was fantastic because I know I’m going to need it,” Johnson said. “I didn’t get a call until Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. I got my first call five days after they told me I’d be getting a counselor call every single day.”

Johnson’s mental health was not prioritized by the university, and neither was the physical health of another student, who reportedly incurred a severe head laceration after accidentally running into a piece of bedroom furniture.

“He was still COVID pending, so he couldn’t just go (to the hospital),” Johnson said. “He has to call an ambulance or he has to wait in his car while he’s dripping blood from his head. So we didn’t have access to medical help if we needed it besides literally calling 911.”

According to Riez Mohad, a student currently staying in QIH, the issues regarding bedroom sinks, shared bathrooms, communal refrigerators and delays in communication with the student health center have not been resolved. Luckily, Mohad was able to speak to the Student Health Center during his second full day in QIH. 

In the interest of protecting her family and keeping other students safe, Johnson decided to stay on campus. But after her experience in QIH, she doesn’t think she could go back. 

“I just want it to change for other people’s sake and the fact that I might have to go back there,” she said. “I can’t go back there if it stays how it was.”