Boston University students sent to quarantine as close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases have mixed reviews of the care they are receiving.
Each time a student tests positive, BU’s contact tracers start compiling a list of people who were in close contact — being within six feet for more than 15 minutes — with the infected person, according to the Back2BU website.
Students who live in a BU residence are sent to University-provided quarantine housing for 14 days, and those who live off campus are mandated to self-quarantine in their home, according to a Back2BU infographic. These individuals — unless they test positive and are moved to isolation housing — must quarantine for the full 14 days, regardless of an initial negative test result.
One of the principal issues students say they have faced in BU-administered quarantine is a lack of communication between them and staff regarding their situation.
Lucy Friedland, a sophomore in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development, is quarantining at 1047 Commonwealth. She said she did not receive the support she needed when she required a medication refill while in quarantine housing.
“I was put here and I had maybe two days left of my meds. I called Residence Life first and they said, ‘Oh, we’re not going to do this for you. You have to call Student Health [Services],’” Friedland said. “I don’t know how many people I spoke to from Student Health that day, probably 15, and every single one of them said we are not going to help you.”
Friedland said she eventually asked a friend to drop off her medication, but that this might not be an option for new students who don’t know anyone on campus yet.
The lack of support from BU worsened an already stressful situation, Friedland said
“It is not an easy transition,” Friedland said. “And all of a sudden for nobody to want to help you, it’s very, very frustrating.”
She said she thinks students can benefit from having a point of contact during their time in quarantine. Friedland said she would have liked a student liaison — someone students could call if they needed to grab an essential item.
Megan de Armas, a junior in the Questrom School of Business who was placed in quarantine housing at the end of August, said she and her roommates who were also quarantined found it difficult to get their questions answered.
“We were some of the first people to go through it, so you would call one person and they would just send you to another person and to another person and to another person,” de Armas said. “There was no one to answer our questions at the time.”
Assistant Dean of Students John Battaglino provided the most support, de Armas said, by conducting daily check-ins with quarantined students via phone and offering his personal phone number to them.
“He obviously can’t really do anything because he’s not the one who makes the rules,” de Armas said. “But he said, ‘I’m here for you. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. You can call me and talk to me about it at any time.’”
De Armas added that she wishes the University had provided some form of transportation to quarantine housing.
“Even though I live in [Student Village] and it was only 1047, it was also pouring. It was the worst experience,” de Armas said. “We were dragging all of our stuff through West Campus. It was a mess.”
Friedland echoed the sentiment when referring to her own relocation experience.
“It was a lot to carry late at night and it was just kind of stressful,” she said. “Even one of those yellow carts would’ve been better because in actuality I would’ve brought a lot more things.”
Blaise Jackson, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she received conflicting information from telehealth administrators and contact tracers.
“I’ve called them a few times just to figure out when I can leave because the people who watch me take my test every three days don’t know the same information as the contact tracers,” Jackson said. “I kept being told two different things about my release date.”
De Armas said the University also doesn’t inform them of the amenities available at 1047 Commonwealth.
“They don’t tell you that there’s a whole kitchen there,” de Armas said. “I knew that there was a kitchen so I brought a pot and I brought my own food.”
Friedland said she wished she had known to bring her own bedding since she — along with other students — found the provided bedding to be “very uncomfortable.”
Jackson, meanwhile, said she had proper warning and was able to prepare.
“They give you a fitted sheet, a knitted blanket and then there’s a medical-grade pillow that’s literally paper,” Jackson said. “My roommates were actually in quarantine the week before I entered quarantine, so they had given me their own personalized list of what to bring, so I brought my own pillow and I brought my own comforter.”
Friedland said a box of non-perishable food is waiting in the quarantine apartments when students arrive, containing items such as cereal, granola bars, soup, pasta, microwaveable meals and rice. On the first night, students also receive dish soap, laundry detergent, paper plates, plastic utensils, various tupperware, paper towels and toilet paper.
The next day, as well as every four days following, Friedland said, students receive a delivery of perishable food containing dairy products, fruits, and meats..
Several students said they were pleasantly surprised with the food provided by the University, although others had issues with dietary restrictions.
Friedland said she received several frozen meals and salads that contained foods she was allergic to, despite having informed BU of her dietary restrictions.
CAS senior Eva Russo said she was able to get in contact with BU to update her dietary status to vegetarian. She said she received a call that asked her extensive questions about her diet, and a new set of food arrived promptly afterward.
“By [the next] morning they had already placed a new bag outside with four veggie meals and other vegan stuff,” Russo said. “They gave me stuff really quickly so I have no complaints there in terms of the speediness, but I know others haven’t had the same experience.”
Jackson, who is vegan, said she had a harder time accessing foods that met her dietary needs — there were times when she did not receive food deliveries for longer than the expected wait time.
“I’ve been vegan for a while so I can’t just switch back to eating meat, and when I got here, the first thing they dropped off was a bottle of whole milk, a huge thing of butter, a bunch of frozen meat dishes,” Jackson said. “The next day, they brought vegan stuff. And then the second food delivery they just completely forgot about me.”
Students also had complaints about poor WiFi connectivity and being prohibited from going outside.
“I don’t know why I can’t put on a [mask] and just take myself outside to just stand outside for a little fresh air,” Friedland said. “Just one of us, one at a time. We just go outside and then we come back in, real quick.”
De Armas said she was frustrated that the University would not allow quarantined students to make use of the balconies.
“There was a balcony on our sixth floor … you could leave the door open and give us 15-minute shifts just to go outside and get fresh air,” de Armas said. “That was so frustrating as to why they couldn’t just accommodate that.”
De Armas also said she grew frustrated with the quarantine regulations for on-campus students because she would not have to follow those same rules if she lived off campus.
“It’s unfair because if I were quarantining off campus, I would be able to go on a daily walk. I would be able to order food through contactless delivery,” de Armas said. “Why is it that because I have a scholarship and literally can’t afford to live off campus … I have to abide by all these rules?”
De Armas said, however, that the University is doing well, all things considered.
“I do think that they are doing the best they can,” de Armas said. “These are such unprecedented times. I truly tried to be understanding with everything.”
BU spokesperson Colin Riley said the University wants to hear from students about their experience in quarantine housing. He said students with suggestions should reach out to the Dean of Students Office.
“We haven’t done this before, and if there are things that someone who is notified and asked to quarantine can recommend to the process,” Riley said, “I know we’re open to that.”