The morning I turned 19 started off great. I had just picked up my birthday cake to celebrate that evening, grabbed breakfast with a friend, and was even brought coffee by another friend. My classes were also cancelled due to a severe weather watch, which I lucked out on as I had a test that I was very worried about. I did get two strange phone calls from an unidentified number, but did not think much of it and went about my day. It was when they had left a voicemail that I decided to finally check what was going on. “We regret to inform you that you have tested positive for COVID-19 and will need to isolate immediately,” said my university health department. A hurricane of emotions swept over me. How could it be? How could this be happening on MY birthday?
To give some background, I go to college in North Carolina. Unlike other schools in the area, I was fortunate enough to spend my first semester on campus albeit under a hybrid format. A couple of days before, there were several clusters identified across campus, including residence halls which I lived in. By this point, we were already on very high alert, and as such, we were required to get tested immediately to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading. All of my close friends got tested and received their results before me — negative. But when I got tested, I received an inconclusive result. I did not think much of it as the people in my personal bubble were all negative, but planned on getting retested in the coming days.
Hearing that I had somehow tested positive was not only mind-boggling, but scary too. A range of questions swirled throughout my mind about how this could be. In my head, I was beating myself up because how could I have been so careless to have gotten infected. It was a sad reality that I had found myself in, as I was told that I needed to leave my dorm immediately and stay away from everyone. I had to get my roommate to bring back food from the dining hall, but my appetite was minimal anyways from the stress of everything happening.
Within a couple of hours, I whisked away in the back of a white van and carried to a hotel close to school that was used for quarantine. As I did not bring any suitcases to college (I live an hour away from my college so there was no need), I had to pack clothes and toiletries in plastic bags. When I arrived at the hotel, there was a separate area where those who were to be quarantined went. I was shortly debriefed on the entire procedure during my stay then sent up to my room on the third floor.
The entire time I was thinking that there was no possible way I could be positive. I knew that being asymptomatic was a thing, but it did not make sense to me how I could be positive and my roommate not be. Likewise, it did not make sense how I was going into quarantine and my roommate would not be as well considering we share the same air within our room. I had made many calls to my family trying to get a second opinion, and my mom promised me that she was on the case in terms of calling the school for further answers.
Around 7 PM that night, I had received an email from the Dean of Students in charge of managing COVID-19 cases amongst the student body. He informed me that it appeared that I had an inconclusive test and that there was a <1% chance that was supposed to happen. As such, he expected me to come in for further testing. I did not see the email until the following morning, but quickly followed up letting him know that I was already in quarantine and unable to receive a test.
We had exchanged many messages back and forth, but the end conclusion was that I could take an additional test to determine my true result, and if I was negative, he would work to try and let me back on campus considering that I was no longer a risk to other students. On the day of Halloween, a private vehicle had arrived that took me to a remote testing site on campus. I was expected to have my results within 24 hours, but when I had checked that night, I got the result I so desperately needed — negative.
I vividly remember jumping up and down in my hotel room screaming, trying not to be too loud of course. The feeling of validation when I knew deep down that I was negative was so reassuring in that moment that I could not help but feel overjoyed. On the first of November, they had given me the all-clear to go back on campus. I called up my friends (who I had been updating throughout the entire process) and they picked me up shortly thereafter. When they arrived however, I could not help but feel emotional, as the overall experience felt like I had been imprisoned for years and finally was walking free.
If there was one thing I could take away from this entire experience, it is truly to live life without regret and to also enjoy every moment that you have. I think what was so jarring about everything was that it all happened at once, so I always felt like I did not have a chance. Although I tried to explain on numerous occasions that I was not sick, it was my word against theirs. I regret not calling my family sooner because maybe then we could have gotten something sorted out. Ultimately, I know that this was mostly out of my hands and I’m glad that I have a story to encapsulate in the future about the severity of this pandemic so that I can never forget what billions of people suffered through for over a year now.
— Brandon Fowlin, 19
Cary, North Carolina