5C students in quarantine face a steep learning curve: ‘You really don’t know what you’re supposed to do’

A blank room with a desk in the foreground and a bed in the background. There is a fridge, sink, and stove off to the left.
5Cs students who have tested positive for COVID are being quarantined in different spaces on and off campus. (Courtesy: Sophie Kim SC ’24)

Adam Kubota PO ’22 received his positive COVID-19 test result just hours before his scheduled move-in time on Aug. 28. 

After testing positive, he received a suite for isolation housing in the Oldenborg Center — complete with a bathroom and two empty single dorms for himself. But it was significantly more barren than he expected.

“There wasn’t any bedding in there. So my friend gave me a sleeping bag liner and some snacks and a towel and some dish soap because there wasn’t any hand soap in the bathroom, either,” he said. 

Kubota said he relied on his friend group to help him through the transition, as the school provided less initial support. 

His experience of navigating the steep learning curve around quarantine, contact tracing, and COVID-19 policy discrepancies echoes the experiences of other 5C students. 

I want to be sympathetic to the fact that it’s a tough job to organize all that and … hopefully, through my experience and the experience of other people who’ve been in there, the deans and the administration [of] student health have been learning lessons about what works and what doesn’t work — and how they can be better,” he said. 

Despite the confusion that often plagues cross-campus communication, procedural responses to a positive case of COVID-19 are similar on paper across the 5Cs. All five schools mandate that a student will be contacted by the college’s affiliated medical service and a school dean when their test returns with a positive result. These individuals are then sent to isolation housing, where meals and other necessities will be delivered to them for at least 10 days and until their symptoms subside. 

Kubota acknowledged that at the time of his isolation the administration was simultaneously trying to solidify COVID-19 procedures and oversee move-in for all on-campus students. Still, he felt the information he received from Student Health Services and the Pomona College administration was difficult to discern. 

“Quarantine housing wasn’t necessarily [the administration’s] sole focus,” he said. “I think communication could have been better between Student Health and the deans — I was oftentimes hearing contradictory things.”

Elisa Velasco PO ’23 was also sent to Oldenborg isolation housing shortly after arriving on campus. She felt slightly symptomatic after her second day of classes and canceled her evening plans to get tested. Her results came back positive.

“A contact tracer called me the next morning and asked me who I’ve been in contact with [in] the past three days so they could contact them,” she said. “And then they told me to move to a different room in [Oldenborg], so I just had to pack a bag and take some things and go.”

Velasco had few complaints about her housing in Oldenborg, saying that as a relatively low-maintenance person, the suite met most of her immediate needs. 

Both Velasco and Kubota had meals delivered to them by Pomona dining staff. Kubota said that once or twice he didn’t receive a meal, however, when he brought it to the deans’ attention his food was delivered almost immediately.

“I’m super thankful for the dining hall staff,” Velasco said. “I know that [delivering food] takes a lot of extra work and [they’re] probably not getting paid more to do that. And also they’re entering the COVID halls, that’s risky.”

Sophie Kim SC ’24 was one of the first positive cases on Scripps’ campus. She received her positive test on the morning of Aug. 28, hours before she was scheduled to move in.

Her experience with her quarantine facility was generally positive, but getting there was stressful, she said.

“I couldn’t find where I was supposed to be,” Kim said. “And there wasn’t really anyone there to help me get my stuff … I felt bad because I was kind of wandering, trying to find where [I was] supposed to go. And obviously, they don’t want a kid with COVID [wandering around].”

Once Kim got settled in, she was able to relax while she waited out her quarantine period. Kim’s facility in the off-campus Oasis KGI Commons apartments was equipped with a full kitchen, bathroom, and furnished bedroom.

 “It was actually very nice. Like, much nicer than anything on campus,” she said. “In terms of the isolation housing itself and the food, I feel like I got lucky.”

Rachel Scharff-Hansen CM ’22 tested positive on Aug. 25 after being on campus for weeks as part of her training to be a first-year guide for New Student Orientation. Scharff-Hansen’s time in quarantine was similarly sufficient, she said.

“[CMC] seem to be very well prepared about the whole process,” she said. 

Scharff-Hansen was mainly worried that her close contacts had been infected, including her Welcome Orientation Adventure group. 

“But when I found out they weren’t, there wasn’t really a lot more for me to stress about,” she said.

CMC Dean of Students Dianna Graves CM ’98 said via email that students who test positive are moved to temporary housing “just south of campus.” 

Each house is stocked with full kitchens, beds, tables, linens, towels, toiletries and medical supplies, she said. Students bring their clothes, academic materials and personal items. Students are provided meals daily and asked to indicate any preferences or restrictions. Each unit comes with bottled water and snack items.

“We have tried to make sure that the homes in which our students are located are clean, comfortable and with sufficient amenities so students feel safe and cared for,” she said. “There are regular check-ins from the Dean of Students Office and support for mental health counseling as needed. Recently, Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services added an opportunity for students who are in quarantine from any of the 5Cs to meet in community via zoom.”

Both Kim and Scharff-Hansen were quarantined for the first week of classes and both felt that they didn’t miss much. However, they acknowledged students quarantined later in the semester could experience more academic disruption.

While relatively few students have tested positive on-campus thus far — the colleges have had only 35 student cases since the beginning of August according to TSL’s COVID dashboard — each student who does puts their close contacts in some form of modified quarantine.

The schools generally consider a person exposed if “they were within six feet of the infected person for more than 15 minutes over a 24-hour period,” according to Pomona’s website

Those who have been exposed are required to quarantine for three to five days, which is considered the incubation period for COVID-19. During this time, they are allowed to attend class and essential academic events masked and they may pick up food in dining halls for take-out. They are not permitted to go to any social events or dine indoors. After the incubation period, if they test negative, they can end their quarantine. 

At CMC, students in modified quarantine must only pick up food at the to-go window at Collins or order food for pickup using the GrubHub app — which is linked up to Collins, the Hub and the daily food trucks, Graves said.  

Velasco’s roommate, Charis Kim PO ’24, was put in this situation after Velasco’s test came back positive. 

Kim said she appreciated what the school was attempting to do but felt that they could have put more effort into effective communication about modified quarantine. 

“You really don’t know what you’re supposed to do. There’s kind of a lag [of communication] in between when you find out if you’re exposed or if you test positive,” she said. “And I feel like that can be a little confusing and it could potentially lead to more exposure [to others] that’s not necessary.”

According to Kim, there was around an hour of lag time between when her roommate tested positive and when Kim herself was notified by a contact tracer. Even after she was contacted, she felt confused about what was expected of her going forward. 

“I was able to find the website and read through that, but I wish they’d have made it a little bit more available,” she said.

Kim was also troubled by the lack of dining hall oversight, as the take-out dining policy functioned on an honor system with nobody assuring that exposed individuals were actually remaining masked indoors. She feared that this, coupled with poor communication, could lead to avoidable spread. 

Caetano Pérez-Marchant HM ’24, who was exposed in early September, felt the honor code was adequate.

“I think the guidelines themselves were fine,” he said. “Lack of supervision I can understand because it’s difficult to have multiple people watch over students.”

However, Pérez-Marchant ran into other difficulties with the modified quarantine. 

He also experienced a lag between when his roommate received a positive test and when SHS contacted him. His roommate informed him immediately and then, about an hour later, Pérez-Marchant received the phone call from SHS. 

While his roommate went to isolation housing, Pérez-Marchant quarantined in their dorm. They share a bathroom with a connected double, whose occupants were given the option to go into modified quarantine by contract tracers. They declined. 

Pérez-Marchant said he wasn’t given information about how to handle bathroom precautions following the suitemates’ decision. 

Zeneve Jacotin HM ’24 had a similar experience with Harvey Mudd College’s response. One of her close friends contracted COVID-19 and she and her roommate were both sent into modified quarantine. However, she received a mass email to all Harvey Mudd students about the positive case before she was contacted directly by tracers.  

“In the email it said that close contacts had been contacted and that was really concerning to me because I hadn’t been contacted and actually none of my friends except for one of them had,” she said.

Pérez-Marchant said he was confused by conflicting information from Harvey Mudd, which instructed him to take a COVID-19 test as soon as possible, and SHS, who informed him that he needed to wait several days. 

And since Pérez-Marchant was exposed on a Wednesday, he could be tested safely on Saturday — but SHS is closed to students on the weekends. He was not allowed off campus to seek out other testing options under modified quarantine. Instead, he had to wait in modified quarantine until SHS opened again on Monday.

This time period, while necessary, took a significant toll on his mental health, Pérez-Marchant said.

“My living situation sort of sucked,” he said, explaining that he heard loud dorm parties late into the night and was unable to leave his dorm to find quiet or study. But he acknowledged that the precautions were necessary.

Jacotin echoed this sentiment. 

“Though it was only for three days, last week felt like four weeks. It was the longest week ever,” she said. 

However, Jacotin said her experience gave her an altered perspective on being back on campus during COVID. 

On the way to the first brunch after the modified quarantine my roommate and I took turns saying what we were grateful for. You know, we’re grateful for vaccines, we’re grateful for being on campus, and for health and for the facilities.” —Zeneve Jacotin

“On the way to the first brunch after the modified quarantine my roommate and I took turns saying what we were grateful for. You know, we’re grateful for vaccines, we’re grateful for being on campus, and for health and for the facilities,” she said. 

Ian Beck PZ ’25 was exposed as he was moving into student housing on Aug. 28, but by the time he was notified, he had received a negative result from an unrelated routine test. Beck was cleared to leave Pitzer’s modified quarantine before it even started, but he was told to stay masked beyond his negative test as a precaution, he said.

Adrian Flynn CM ’25 was put in modified quarantine after one of his FYGs tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the start of classes. Similar to Beck, Flynn’s time in quarantine was quite short — him and his WOA group only had to quarantine for three days. 

At first, Flynn said, the rules of modified quarantine were unclear.

“But after our dean of students, Dianna Graves, got in touch with our group directly [she] told us what we should expect,” Flynn said. “She also arranged for tests to be given to us earlier than originally scheduled so that we may exit modified quarantine.”

Since getting out of his modified quarantine, Flynn has observed a campus that does not necessarily adhere to the sometimes strict policies put forth by the colleges.

“Any idea that there’s no cross-campus intermingling is completely inaccurate, although that’s pretty obvious,” Flynn said. “It doesn’t seem there are many measures being taken to limit that kind of movement, but also it’s not really possible because of the connectivity of the 5Cs anyway.”

Flynn praised the rigorous testing schedule that most of the 5Cs have stuck to as a strong step in preventing a large outbreak.

Velasco urged her peers to be careful and mindful as the situation with COVID-19 evolves.

“Wear your mask, wear your mask… I was extra careful and I still got it, so y’all, don’t go crazy,” she said. 

But Scharff-Hansen also wants students to remember that they aren’t necessarily to blame for testing positive for COVID-19. 

“Don’t stigmatize it into something really negative,” she said. “You can’t control whether or not you test positive.”

Scripps, Pomona, Pitzer and Harvey Mudd did not respond to a request for comment. 

Charis Kim PO ’24 is a section designer for TSL.

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