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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

Notes from the Desk: My week quarantined as a close contact

<span class="photocreditinline"><a href="">Sabrina Templeton</a></span>

I am writing to you from ADK (recently renovated from the CCI into a dorm), where I am staying as an identified close contact of someone with Covid-19. 

I would like to begin by admitting that, no, I didn’t keep my mask on every time I was outside of my room. I thought I was being wise about who I unmasked in front of, but clearly the rules are in place for a reason, and I am now paying the price of breaking them. But regardless of how I got here, I am in this situation, and I have no choice but to feel the emotions that come with it (a concept introduced to me by Carter Branley, the Middlebury counselor getting me through this week).

To be blunt, it sucks. 

As a friend of mine astutely pointed out — in what must have been an attempt at reassurance — I have never been alone for this long in my entire life. And though I am very lucky to be able to quarantine in such a safe place, I didn’t know at the start of this week what that kind of aloneness would feel like. 

Now, you might be wondering how one passes the time for seven days in ADK 203. Every morning after I wake up, I strategically place my Zoom camera so my classmates can’t see the overflowing suitcase behind me (PubSafe’s offer to drive my belongings from Giff to ADK allowed me to overpack sufficiently). Then, around 11:30, the dining staff leaves the building’s residents’ lunches downstairs and shouts to us that food has arrived. 

Usually, I eat lunch in my desk chair, and I try to keep myself busy until around 4:00 (that’s when things get really exciting). At that time each day, I try to move for at least 15 minutes, whether that be by doing a YouTube workout or some semblance of an exercise that feels like it should be good for me. After that, I take a shower, which requires a text in the “Bathroom” group chat that has been made to avoid running into anyone. I’ve taken to Zooming with friends over dinner to make all of this feel a bit more normal, and then from there, the night kind of takes care of itself — and that’s another day gone by. 

This is not like the two-week pre-arrival quarantine or the two-day room quarantine, where we had decorations, photos, trinkets and familiar views to distract us from the work we were meant to be doing. It is just me in a big, white-walled room, looking out the window at people who don’t know I am in here. 

Zoom, Facetime, phone calls, texting — we have so many outlets of communication that have proven helpful in the last week, but none capture the feeling of sitting in a room with someone, masked or otherwise, and feeling their energy. 

[pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]This may all seem dramatic, but I miss people. [/pullquote]

I am the type of person to sit next to friends instead of across the table from them, to fix their collars for them instead of telling them to do it themselves and to tell them how much I love them more than I should — it’s how I cope. I have anxiety like many others, and in order to block out the stream of “what-ifs” and “why-didn’t-I’s” in my head, I lean on people. 

And not having that has been hard.

Despite the mental toll that this quarantine has taken, it is important to note that the Middlebury College staff members themselves have done all that they could to make me feel heard, protected and remembered in this last week. They have provided quarantined students with kettles, yoga mats, comfort food and daily phone calls from Parton staff, “just to check-in.” They really do care, and, if nothing else, it’s nice to know. 

On my fifth day of quarantine, I walked into the back door of Parton to get my second of three Covid tests before (hopefully) being released after the third negative result. A nurse, Peg (known among my fellow quarantined students for her kindness) asked me how I was doing, and I burst into tears. Honestly, I cry at car commercials, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, but I really could not control myself this time. I hadn’t spoken with anyone in nearly a week, and I hadn’t previously realized how much I missed in-person conversation. 

This experience, albeit difficult and my own fault, has been an important reminder of how much (safe) interpersonal interactions matter. Since the beginning of Covid-19, I have gotten more comfortable being alone — most of us have. And that is a good thing, but a global pandemic isn’t something one should go through alone, even if we think we can. 

Seven days in isolation may not seem like a lot, but it is enough time to have noticed the absence of small gestures that mean more than I realized they did. I need hellos from across the path, awkward masked conversations and friends (close-contacts) barging into my room on Sunday mornings to collect me for Proc breakfast. If I’ve learned anything from being in here, beside the obvious “follow the rules,” it’s that I’ve created a family for myself on this campus, and being away from them has shown me how much I need them. 

Editor’s Note: Eliza King Freedman ’23 is an Arts & Culture Editor for The Campus.