The day I packed my bags and left my home on the east coast of Florida to return to FGCU for the fall semester, I knew in the back of my mind that I would likely encounter COVID-19. With cases rising throughout the state, no amount of preparation, supplies, or safety measures would prevent me from completely avoiding the pandemic while living in a shared apartment while working multiple jobs and attending class.
However, I did everything in my power to keep the coronavirus at bay, including wearing my mask, avoiding parties, and regularly cleaning my apartment. I lulled myself into a false sense of security as I watched friends of mine test positive for coronavirus after attending large gatherings, knowing that their behavior was responsible for their diagnosis.
I received a stomach-churning jolt back to reality when I woke up to a text from one of my three roommates, telling us that she had tested positive for coronavirus that morning, and urging everyone to get tested.
I drove to the local MedExpress in my pajamas and sat in my car for two hours, notifying all my contacts of her diagnosis while awaiting my own rapid test.
I tested negative.
Hours after the initial notification, I found myself in the air filtration aisle of Lowes, trying to decide which filter I should tape to my air ducts, and realizing that even though I had prepared for this since January, I did not know what to do.
There is very little information regarding what to do if you’re a college student and your roommate tests positive. The CDC and other government-run websites recommends isolating the individual and protecting yourself while caring for them. However, there isn’t a box to check when someone you have no relation to – or authority over – suddenly has the virus.
The physical toll of knowing someone in my household had COVID-19 was exhausting, but the mental toll was even worse. I felt like I had failed myself and my roommates and allowed the pandemic to knock on my front door. The invisible monster that I spent ten months hearing about was now in my home, and I had no idea where it was.
I was uncomfortable implementing and enforcing rules within the apartment and felt like most of my efforts were futile. However, reasonable expectations were necessary, and I drafted a text in my roommate group chat.
We agreed on a few basic rules: Everyone would wear a mask while in the common areas of the apartment, each person will sanitize any surfaces they touch while in the kitchen or living room, myself and the other “negative” roommates would grocery shop for our friend, and we would not come in contact with each other until everyone received a negative test.
For ten days, our room was eerily silent. I taped Merv-13 air filters to each of my air ducts in an attempt to filter out the virus particles, sanitized common surfaces three times per day, took off all my metal jewelry before entering shared spaces, and washed all cloth items in the living room and kitchen with Lysol laundry sanitizer. I wore my KN-95 mask at all times – except while showering – and moved my plates and utensils into my bedroom. My meals were eaten at my desk or in my car, and I wore gloves to open the front door when I would leave the apartment. I notified all of my employers of the status of my roommates’ tests and ceased all social interactions with my friends until I knew she was negative.
For ten months, I had compiled an impressive collection of antibacterial hand soap, paper towels, cleaning solution, masks, gloves, toilet paper, laundry sanitizer, and other essentials. As a self-proclaimed news junkie, I felt like I knew everything there was to know about the pandemic. But, despite my constant preparation, I was blindsided.
I cried daily during my apartment’s quarantine. I was fearful of catching COVID-19, but I was even more scared of the possibility that I had unknowingly transmitted it to someone I cared about. I felt helpless, vulnerable, and ultimately alone. For months, I shook my head at those who tested positive for the virus, assuming that they had done something irresponsible to warrant them catching coronavirus – but now, the pandemic was inside my apartment, and I had done nothing to invite it in.
Ten days later, my roommate emerged from her bedroom with a negative COVID-19 test. Myself and my other two roommates also tested negative, meaning that my precautionary measures had worked, and we had successfully shared an apartment with the virus without being infected.
However, I refuse to let my guard down. I have scheduled an antibody blood test to see if there is a chance that I transmitted the virus to my roommate, and I continue to wear my mask in public places and avoid large social gatherings.
It is incredibly important that everyone, no matter your age or current health, inform themselves and take the necessary precautions to keep themselves safe. College students especially should be prepared for someone within their shared dorm or apartment to test positive by arming themselves with masks, cleaning supplies, and a plan on what to do if they find themselves in the same situation I found myself in.
For months, my college-aged friends have poked fun at me for being “paranoid”, but I maintain that my ability to research the virus and adequately prepare kept me safe when COVID-19 came into my home.