On March 28th, 2021 I received my first dose of the Pfizer covid-19 vaccination through the Alleghany County Department of Health. I felt happy and relieved afterwards. This is the beginning of the end of the pandemic. I was proud to be a part of the solution.
I knew I still had to keep my guard up for a few more weeks until I was fully immune, but I had already been doing that for the past year. I kept my social interactions limited. I did not travel anywhere unnecessary. I washed my hands every single time I came back to my suite or before I ate.
On Saturday, April 3rd, I noticed I was hoarse and had a tickle in my throat. My roommate, Kit May, said that she felt the same. We figured we were catching our friends’ cold, since they had been sick the week before. They tested negative for covid when they were sick, so we did not think much more of it.
The next day, I woke up with a bad sinus headache, post-nasal drip, and a wet cough (that I blamed on the post-nasal drip). I did not have a fever. Again, I thought that I had a cold or at worst, a sinus infection. I tried to sleep it off.
That Monday, I went for my mandatory weekly covid test through the school. My symptoms were the same. On Tuesday, I was congested and blowing my nose non-stop, so I figured whatever “cold” I had was coming out of my system.
Kit was also sick, complaining that her throat was sore. Congestion was one of her first symptoms. By Tuesday night, she was complaining that she was so congested she could not smell or taste. This made me nervous, but she reassured me that it happens every year with her allergies. Another one of my roommates, Bri Shifflett was complaining of headaches. The weather was changing from cold to warm, so she attributed it to that. None of us had fevers. My third roommate, Christine Raposas, who has been fully vaccinated since January, felt perfectly fine.
On Wednesday morning, April 7th, I received an email saying that I had been in a positive pool on my Monday covid-19 test. This sent me into a panic. I kept thinking it had to be a joke the world was playing on us – we didn’t have covid, did we? I felt much better that day, my energy was back so it couldn’t be us. After an agonizing forty-minute wait at the Wellness Center, my individual test came back positive.
I honestly cried when the nurse told me. I could not believe that I had made it this far into the pandemic to catch covid when I was so close to being fully vaccinated. I also knew that I would have to be isolated and that I would lose time in my studio where I was racing to complete artwork for my thesis. It was frustrating, stressful, and embarrassing.
Kit and Bri also tested positive an hour later. The Wellness Center allowed us to isolate in our suite in Kenyon with Christine’s permission. They considered her entirely immune and did not test or quarantine her. This worked out to our benefit as we did not have to pack stuff to move into a quarantine dorm and Christine was able to grab supplies for me from my studio.
Since our symptoms started on April 3rd, Kit, Bri, and I were isolated until April 14th. All three of us experienced very different symptoms. By Thursday, my congestion was gone, but I was still coughing. I experienced some mild chest pressure and shortness of breath when moving around quickly that day but was fine the next day. Kit’s sore throat, congestion, and loss of taste and smell continued throughout the weekend. Bri only felt sick for one day during which she was nauseous and fatigued, besides the earlier headaches. She also lost her sense of smell temporarily for a couple days. None of us ever had fevers.
Our experience in isolation was poor from the start. On our first day of isolation, Kit called the Dean of Wellbeing to ask them to pick up an essential prescription for her from the Alfred Pharmacy. She was planning on picking up it that day but unfortunately, we were isolated before she could.
“The person on the phone asked if I needed it that day. I said yes. They asked if I was sure I needed it that day,” Kit said. Someone did bring her medication to our suite that evening, but clearly, they did not want to and acted as if it was a large inconvenience.
Food was a particularly disappointing part of isolation for all of us. Students quarantined on-campus must order food to their rooms each day on a designated website. On the order form, they list meal preferences, dietary restrictions, and room location. For us, food was typically delivered around 6 P.M. everyday.
“I had to ask specifically for no rice or pasta because that’s all I would receive for days,” Bri said. There was little variation.
I am dairy-free and reported this on the form daily. One day, I received milk as a beverage and a cheesy entrée. I am extremely grateful we were allowed to stay in our own suite where I had a stockpile of my own snacks and groceries.
Another day, Kit ordered food and it was simply never delivered. All three of us ordered food at the same time for the day. At 6 P.M., both me and Bri’s meals arrived. Kit called the Dean of Wellbeing to ask about her food and they told her to call again at 7 P.M. if it was not delivered by then.
The meals did not show up, so Kit called again. The person on the phone asked if it was possible for Kit “to share a meal” with someone for tonight. This person promised to bring Kit food in the morning and that if she ordered again as usual tomorrow, she would receive food again at 6 P.M.
Someone did personally deliver meals for Kit the following morning, but she did not receive food again that night. “I ordered again but it didn’t come. I didn’t really care because my expectations were low at that point,” Kit said. Again, we were fortunate to be in our own suite with groceries.
The quality of the food was an issue for all three of us. After a few days in isolation, I noticed my stomach was hurting all the time–whether I was hungry or if I had just eaten. I wondered if it could be one last covid symptom. I asked Christine to pick up food for me from Main Street so I could avoid eating the food delivered to us for one full day. That day, my stomach pain stopped completely.
Kit commented that the food was far lower quality than what she received while in quarantine during the fall semester. She described the food this semester as “greasy” and “bad”.
The Allegany County Department of Health contacted us via email on April 13th to tell us that we were released from isolation at 12 A.M. on April 14th. That morning, all three of us individually called the Wellness Center to confirm that we were released. The receptionist marked our names down and said that we were free to leave the suite.
I left to move back into my studio and Kit left to run errands. Around 2 P.M., Christine and Bri heard a knock on the door at the suite. A woman was there from the Wellness Center asking for Bri and Kit specifically. She was under the impression that only Bri and Kit were quarantined (not isolated) in our suite. She did not know who Christine was and she did not ask about me at all.
Bri had to explain to the woman that there were four people living in the suite and that three of us had tested positive and were released from isolation that day. The woman was confused and seemed shocked that Kit had left the suite already. Clearly, there was a huge lack of communication between people at the Wellness Center.
I think that it is also important to note that this is the only time the Wellness Center checked in with our suite, besides the day we tested positive. I stopped doing the daily screening after I tested positive and no one contacted me. I hate to imagine how difficult reaching a medical professional would have been like if one of us had been seriously ill.
I am very disappointed with the way the school treated us during isolation. The fact that we could stay all together in our own suite was what made the experience bearable. Considering the fact that we are in month 13 of this pandemic and that students have been here for almost two full semesters during the pandemic, I would expect these basic issues regarding communication and food to be resolved by now.
The only persistent symptom I still have from covid is a mild cough, mostly when I first get up and move around in the morning. It is improving every day though; I only cough a few times when I wake up now instead of coughing for twenty-minutes as I did just a week ago.
Kit’s taste returned shortly before being released from isolation and her smell returned shortly after. Bri’s smell also returned shortly before we were released. Christine lived with us for the entirety of the time all three of us were sick and she has continued to test negative since. Her experience is a true testament of the vaccine’s effectiveness.
The Department of Health and my primary doctor gave us the go-ahead to receive the second dose of the vaccination. I received my second shot on April 18th as originally planned. It felt a bit like it was too little too late, but I am still happy knowing that I am as immune as physically possible and do not have to worry about spreading the virus to anyone vulnerable.
All three of us were worried about the side-effects of the second vaccine, considering we had just recovered from actual covid. Both Kit and Bri experienced fevers over 100 degrees shortly after receiving the second shot. Kit felt generally unwell and fatigued for about 18 hours. Bri experienced chills, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness for about 48 hours.
“I suffered more from the second vaccine than I did from having actual covid,” Bri said.
I was sleepy the day I received the second vaccine. My arm was very sore for two days, like the first shot, but my lymph nodes in my armpit were also very swollen. Unlike Bri and Kit, I did not develop a fever. It seems as if our experiences with the second vaccine were pretty typical of those who did not have covid.
For me, having covid was like having a bad cold. However, I realize that I am incredibly lucky. Arguably, I was the least sick of my roommates. It is possible that my first vaccine had some time to do its job and made my illness less severe than what it could have been.
I was likely exposed to the virus sometime shortly after I received my first shot. My roommates and I are still uncertain about where we got it from, and we will probably never know. Our experience also proves that even people who are responsible and following social distancing guidelines can catch covid.
All three of us had different symptoms that made it incredibly difficult to tell if we had covid or not without a test. Most of the symptoms we experienced are not even what the CDC lists as typical covid symptoms. None of us had fevers while we were sick. I was the only one with a cough and it was wet, not dry. The headaches Bri and I had were not “unusual” – they felt like ones we had before. The congestion Kit and I had is not common in a majority of covid patients.
As of the writing of this article, 41% of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine (according to Our World in Data). But covid is still circulating in the community and we are not out of the pandemic yet. I know that we are all tired of hearing it, we need to continue to be cautious. I never thought I would catch covid when I did. I am incredibly grateful that I mostly stayed in my dorm when I was sick before I tested positive. I would feel awful if I had spread covid to someone who is not as fortunate as me and could have suffered much worse illnesses, lasting complications, or at the worst, loss of their life.
I encourage everyone to do their part to end the pandemic by getting vaccinated if you have not already.
By Katie Alley