On Sept. 11, Sophia Rios was standing in line at Starbucks when she got a phone call. She had tested positive for COVID-19. She said she was sad, scared and unsure of what to do next.
With intense body aches and painful migraines, Rios didn’t want to leave the comfort of her dorm in Duren Residence Hall. Her single-occupancy dorm has a private bath, isolating her from other residents. Her friends had even offered to drop off food for her.
However, after a series of long and confusing phone calls, she was told she would have to spend the next 10 days in the Austin-Travis County isolation facility, a converted hotel located off of North Interstate 35.
“My conscience (felt) better that I was away from people and not possibly getting them sick, (but) it's almost as if (I) turned myself in,” said Rios, a political communication and Plan II freshman.
Since March 22, the city of Austin has been working to convert local hotels into isolation facilities for people who have tested positive or are symptomatic and can’t isolate at home.
Susan Hochman, University Health Services associate director for assessment, communications and health information technology, said in an email that students are not required to go to the isolation facility. However, they must isolate somewhere off campus.
“(Students) may self-isolate at their location of choice off campus so long as the accommodations provide a separate bed and bathroom and the student will have access to food and other essentials without having to leave their room,” Hochman said.
On the morning of Aug. 31, business freshman Cora Tien woke up in her off-campus apartment, The Castilian, with a cough and fever. She got tested for COVID-19 at Texas MedClinic, and that same day, her result came back positive.
Tien said the isolation facility was her only option because of concerns from her roommates and at-risk family members. The morning after testing positive, she was taken to the facility in an ambulance and spent the next 10 days there.
“The whole ambulance thing was very intimidating,” Tien said. “They parked outside of Castilian, I got in and everyone around me was like, ‘Okay, this girl is walking with a bunch of bags to (get) inside of an ambulance.’”
Tien was delivered three meals a day by facility staff, and while she had everything she needed, Tien said the food was unappetizing, and noisy neighbors made it hard to sleep.
“The food was like mysterious meats and things of that nature,” Tien said. “My neighbor never slept, and I would always hear the Liberty Mutual commercial at three in the morning.”
Residents had two one-hour breaks each day when they could leave their rooms and walk around a courtyard.
“When you're with friends in an apartment or a dorm, if you don't go outside, it doesn't feel like the end of the world because you can still interact with people,” Tien said. “But some days, I had class during (break) times (and) couldn't go, which was hard.”
Both students said that the living conditions and monotony of their days made the isolation period drag on.
“I sat around all day for 10 days,” Tien said. “It was just (log onto) class, lay in bed, sit at a desk, maybe walk outside, eat the food that they give you and then go to sleep and do it all over again the next day.”