Several New York upstate schools have already switched to online learning due to a surge in coronavirus cases. Why did Syracuse, a relatively large university, manage to keep students on campus this semester? The success is due in large part to the precautionary measures and complicated plan that Syracuse University has put in place for its students who either contract the virus or come into close contact with someone who has it.
How do I know all this? Because I'm going through it right now.
On October 1st, I found out that someone I was in close contact with had Covid-19. What did that mean for me? I had the coronavirus back in March and had tested positive for antibodies. So I knew I had a chance not to get sick again (and luckily not either). But I had contact with someone who had Covid. 19 still justify a quarantine on my part? I would come soon to find out that the answer would be yes.
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Granted, this realization brought with it some anxiety as I knew it would mean that I would miss two weeks of face-to-face classes. That being said, now that I'm almost on the other side of the quarantine, I have to commend Syracuse University for all the precautionary measures they have taken. It keeps students on campus. It keeps athletes playing. At least now I can write a story about the experience. Lemonade made from lemons, right? Isn't it about 2020? Here's how it all went.
Step 1: Call the Barnes Health Center (after hearing the news)
The first logical step was to contact the health center to find out what to do and where to go. I spoke to a doctor who told me the first step was to go to the Flanagan gym to get tested. Interestingly, the doctor told me that if I tested positive for Covid-19 I would only have to quarantine for 10 days. If I were negative I would have to quarantine for 14 days. This is because it can take up to 14 days after the virus for a person to develop symptoms.
Taken from Centers for Disease Prevention and Control
Step 2: to be tested at Flanagan
This is where my admiration for Syracuse began. Flanagan is part of a center on the Syracuse campus across from the Barnes Health Center that has been completely converted into a coronavirus testing center. The tests they run are quick so you'll have to wait in the middle for the results to come back. Then the doctor who gives you your results is the one who tells you where to go next depending on what the result is. My result was negative. Translation: Off to the Sheraton Hotel for quarantine.
Flanagan Testing Center Waiting area for test results. The chairs are 6 feet apart and face the wall.
Step 3: Quarantine at the Sheraton
I think this is where the distinction between Syracuse and other universities has been highlighted. After my test result was negative, the doctor at Barnes Health Center directed me to go home, pack my things (as much as I would need for 14 days), and go straight to the Sheraton. I spoke to other SU students who were also quarantined. They say one of the biggest differences between Syracuse and other universities their friends attend is that SU has immediate protection for those who need to be quarantined. Many other universities left the students with nothing more to do.
SU not only gave me an exact location and booked the room for me, but also paid for it. SU pays for every night one of their students stays at the Sheraton. You also pay for parking. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of SU's generosity.
When I got into the room, I saw several brochures and other pieces of paper. Each of them sketched something different. One was from Dr. Karen Nardella, the medical director of the Barnes Health Center. This letter described all the rules for quarantine as well as the provisions provided by SU. Here are the main points:
1. The letter begins by saying "We understand this is an incredibly difficult time for you" which shows me your sincerity towards the situation
2. The university plans three meals a day (which are paid for). The menu of the day can be found in the room and you can call the hotel with special dietary needs.
3. Grocery deliveries are allowed (you were also allowed to order anything you wanted from the hotel card)
4. A member of the Dean of Studies team will contact you (which she did).
5. A website has been provided with a list of virtual events so that you can continue to feel connected to your colleagues.
In my opinion, all of the bullet points on this list were signs that Syracuse really knew their students were hurt, and they did care.
Upper half of Dr. Karen Nardella
For example, as promised, the food was delivered three times a day. Some students I spoke to were slightly dissatisfied with the mealtimes popping up during class and not having a microwave to heat up hot food, but it was just a minor inconvenience for them. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were different every day, and if you wanted to make minor substitutions you could call and ask. I requested a replacement once and the hotel staff said it wasn't a problem. If a student didn't like what was being served and chose to order something else from the hotel card, there was a 10% SU student discount.
SU paid for many things during my quarantine (hotel, parking, food, etc.) but they showed more than just financial support. They also showed emotional support. One student told me that upon arrival she entered a room with multiple resources waiting for her. Including a flu kit with cough drops and tissues, and a mental health kit with coloring pages and Play-Doh.
Another student told me that she really appreciated the woman who called the Dean's Office to check on her. She said it was a lot easier to hear someone's voice and be able to ask a person questions than to try and crawl a website to find all of those answers.
Step 4: Get fired from the Sheraton
In certain cases, SU students who are in quarantine will be released from the Sheraton and given permission to ride the rest of their quarantine in their home. These are the requirements:
1) You need to have someone else pump your gas before you go
2) You must be able to drive home without stopping (to eat, use the toilet, etc.)
3) You must have access to your own room and bathroom
If these qualifications can be met, you may be fired from the Sheraton if Onondoga County approves it. As grateful as I was to SU and the Sheraton for hosting, the news that I could at least be quarantined in my own room, as opposed to a hotel room, was invigorating.
Why is it all important? In my opinion there are two main reasons.
First, SU's extensive quarantine procedures are one of the main reasons students and athletes are safe. Not only does this mean that students will feel a sense of normality from staying on campus, but it also means they can attend classes in person, which is the preferred learning style for many.
Second, our athletes can keep playing. For those who may not know, SU will close its campus when the university hits 100 coronavirus cases. SU's plan of action every time a student has Covid-19 or is at risk of becoming infected may be one of the main reasons SU athletes have been able to have a season. And I think we all want to keep it that way.