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Some students have found their time in quarantine to be demotivating.

Credit: Diego Cárdenas Uribe

Students who have tested positive for COVID-19 while on campus this semester have found it difficult to keep up with their coursework, with some calling quarantine “demotivating” and “depressing.”

Students who are diagnosed with COVID-19, including those who are fully vaccinated, are required to isolate for at least 10 days. With classes primarily being conducted in person this semester, students reported varying degrees of accommodation and a lack of clarity from professors about what accommodations or extensions they were entitled to. 

Penn required all students to be vaccinated before arriving on campus this semester, and the University has not found a link between classes and COVID-19 transmission despite new cases occurring each week. Some students have resumed to in-person gatherings and social parties, largely undeterred by the COVID-19 threat.

Penn's campus positivity rate is currently 0.38%, down from 1.1% last week, and is operating at Level 2: Heightened Awareness, suggesting the University is experiencing an increase in transmission or cases. 

The 124 students currently in isolation include students living on campus who have been moved into Sansom Place East where they have their own bathroom and kitchen and those living off campus isolating in their bedroom. The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke to seven of these students about their experience in isolation while trying not to fall behind during an in-person semester.

A demoralizing experience

After testing positive during the first week of required testing, College sophomore Joy Onawola was notified that evening of the result by the University and was asked to pack her belongings to quarantine in Sansom East.

She said she found her time in quarantine to be demotivating, having little to do during the day besides occasionally stepping outside into the courtyard.

“My perception of time was pretty much non-existent, and I pretty much had no motivation. There was nothing to look forward to in there,” Onawola said. 

A Nursing sophomore, who requested anonymity due to health concerns, also tested positive this semester, though she is unsure where she contracted COVID-19 from. She lost her senses of taste and smell while in quarantine and became congested and experienced body aches and chills.  

“Being in Sansom, in general, is a very isolating experience,” the Nursing sophomore said. “All you can do is really go maybe outside to the courtyard if you really want to. So yeah, I think it does take a toll on your mental health.”

An Engineering sophomore, who also requested anonymity due to her health condition, got tested when one of her friends started feeling sick and ended up being the only one to test positive out of all her close friends.

“I was really scared I think because I wasn't expecting it because none of my close friends had tested positive,” the Engineering sophomore said. 

The Engineering sophomore experienced symptoms including sore throat, cough, congestion, runny nose, and fatigue. She also lost her voice.

The Engineering sophomore said she was dissatisfied with the food options offered in isolation, finding them not sufficiently nutritious or appetizing. On the first day students enter Sansom, they are provided with a bag of microwavable foods such as mac and cheese or frozen enchiladas, the Engineering sophomore said. 

“It would have been nicer to have healthy options especially when you're sick and you're trying to get better," the Engineering sophomore said.

Both the Engineering sophomore and Onawola said Sansom has limited and unappealing vegetarian options, with the Engineering sophomore saying that "it's not food you want to eat."

Students also have the option to have friends drop off food for them in the lobby, or to order meals through delivery services. These options, however, would require the quarantining student or their friends to spend money.

A College junior, who requested anonymity, expressed how she has become more “passionate” about COVID-19 safety measures after her experience in quarantine. 

“I think everyone should just continue to be cautious,” the College junior said. “It's kind of scary and frustrating. I think that's the main thing I feel towards COVID [and the Delta variant] now.”

Difficulty keeping up with coursework in isolation

A College senior, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of her health status, said she spent 10 days in isolation beginning Sept. 11. Her ability to keep up in her classes varied, she said, adding that in one class, her professor had received a red PennOpen Pass, which led that week’s class to be held virtually.

But for her other courses, the College senior said getting caught up was more difficult. Because she is enrolled in several small, seminar-style classes, missing class meant she also missed the class discussion that makes up the bulk of the instruction. While she said she received PowerPoint slides from her professor and invitations to office hours to catch up for those classes, it was not possible for her to make up the discussion portion.

The University does not require instructors to record their classes. On the University’s FAQ for the Fall 2021 semester, the only instructions for students who need to miss class because they are sick are to notify their instructor. The Center for Teaching and Learning has a list of recommendations for how instructors can support students missing class because of illness but does not have requirements for accommodating students.

None of the Nursing sophomore's classes were recorded, forcing her to rely on her friends’ notes, and she had to take several quizzes she missed in person on Zoom with her professor. Despite her friends' help, she said she found it hard to keep up with her classes while in isolation. 

The Nursing sophomore also quarantined last semester when she tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time. She has found quarantining to be more challenging this semester since classes are being held in person.

“Last semester, for classes, everything was virtual, so I wasn't really missing out on much. And I didn't really have to tell my professors that I had COVID-19 or anything. It really wasn't interfering as much with my school stuff last semester,” the Nursing sophomore said. 

Unlike the Nursing sophomore, the College senior said that her professors did not offer Zoom-based options to catch up on schoolwork, though she said she did not mind this as she would have had to attend Zoom sessions while sick.

“For me, it wasn't so much a priority to be like, ‘I have to be in class right now,’” she said. “It's more like, ‘I'm going to concentrate on my physical and mental health and catch up when it's time to.'”

The College senior praised some of her professors, including a photography instructor, who allowed her to take extensions on several assignments and even offered a session to make up missed in-class work. She added, however, that she had to ask for extensions in several of her classes rather than have them offered by her professors, which she believes might prevent younger students or students less familiar with Penn from receiving accommodations.

“You're always free to ask for it and see what the professor says, but I don't know if it's always [assumed] that you'll get an extension because you're behind,” she said.

This was also the case for a College sophomore, who also requested anonymity. Because most of her classes were larger STEM lectures, she was able to keep up for the most part by watching videos and filling out the worksheets posted online. 

She added, however, that she was not granted any extensions while sick with COVID-19, despite both her illness and the time delay between when the actual lecture took place and when it was posted on Canvas. 

“It's kind of frustrating because I am missing the lecture, so I have to wait, for example, for when my professor is going to post pictures of the whiteboard,” she said.

The College sophomore said that in some cases, recordings of lectures were inadequate. In one class, for example, the professor posted only an audio recording of the lecture, which meant she still had to get the notes for visual elements of the lecture from a friend.

College junior Sam Lelyukh, who was required to isolate for seven days after his housemate tested positive for COVID-19, experienced some similar difficulties with posted recordings on Canvas during his isolation.

Although all his classes had some online option — whether a recorded lecture or the ability to Zoom in — Leylukh said for CIS 160: Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science, the audio recording of the lecture he missed did not work and contained no sound, making it difficult for him to stay caught up in the class. 

Both the College sophomore and the College senior said that because they were sick relatively early in the semester before midterms began, they were able to avoid falling too far behind in their classes. 

The College senior said that she hopes that as the semester continues, policies for classwork for students isolating because of COVID-19 become more clear.

“It kind of seems like, even though it is probably inevitable for students to get COVID-19 or be exposed to COVID-19 and have to miss classes, there's not a protocol in place,” the College senior said.

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