When Emily Thomas* arrived at South Campus’ Goodyear Hall for her mandatory two-week quarantine, she received: face masks, garbage bags, a muffin, two cookies, toilet paper, disinfectant, a bottle of water and a rotten banana.
And that was it.
When she asked for hand soap, she was told Campus Living didn’t have any, but that she could receive deodorant instead. When she asked for additional bottled water, she was told to order it the following day — and that she would incur a $2 charge per bottle. Fresh fruit was a luxury.
In a now-viral Reddit post, Thomas detailed her experience in the quarantine dorms. She says UB hasn’t given quarantining students basic necessities and that dining options are limited and pricey. She insists UB is not being honest with students about the conditions inside the dorms and that no one is checking on quarantined students.
“Not at all actually,” Thomas said. “In the email they sent out initially, they said they understand this is hard and that an RA will be reaching out to you every day to make sure you’re okay and checking up on you. That hasn’t happened at all.”
Thomas said her roommate has griped that she “could literally be dead right now and I don’t think they would notice for at least a couple of days.”
There are currently 38 students in on-campus isolation/quarantine and an additional eight students from restricted states in precautionary quarantine, according to UB’s COVID dashboard. The Spectrum has spoken to several students in quarantine, but Thomas is the only one who would go on the record. The other students told similar stories.
“Considering how much funding UB gets, and how much I pay to live on-campus, it’s unacceptable,” Thomas told The Spectrum in an interview.
The time in isolation is wearing on her and she feels her mental health declining.
“We can’t leave our rooms at all, so I haven’t seen the outside world in three or four days,” Thomas said. “I’m not that good at being by myself. I have clinical depression. It’s been hard.”
Her complaints come at a time when quarantined students across the country are using TikTok and other social media platforms to criticize the oversight, nursing, meals and general supervision their universities provide them.
UB currently has 134 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 64 on-campus cases and 70 off-campus cases. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that universities must transition to remote learning when 100 members of the on-campus population test positive for the virus.
Over the summer, Thomas was in New York with her family. She said she “quarantined basically the whole time” and was “super careful about COVID at home.” The only time she left her house was to shop for groceries with her parents or social distance at the park with friends.
When she returned to campus, Thomas became “worried” that UB wasn’t doing enough to keep its students safe. She said she was particularly concerned about the lack of testing. Prior to this weekend, when UB began conducting randomized surveillance testing, the school was not testing students.
Thomas opted to get tested for COVID-19 after her roommate came in contact with someone who had contracted the virus. Thomas tested negative. But her roommate tested positive. They alerted their residential adviser, who told the girls to prepare for a two-week quarantine on South Campus. That came as a surprise to Thomas.
“At first we were hopeful that we could stay where we are and just quarantine,” Thomas said. “But they moved us all to South Campus, one person in every separate room.”
UB provided transportation for Thomas, but she called the communication “scattered” and the school contacted her roommates “one-at-a-time.” She “tried to pack up as fast as possible” because she didn’t know when she was going to get picked up. It was close to midnight when the van came.
“The process just didn’t seem well-organized at all,” Thomas said. “They put us in a random white van — it wasn’t even a UB van. They threw us in there and they brought us here.”
When she arrived on South, the RA on-duty provided her with supplies for the coming days. Although she had the foresight to pack hand soap, Thomas noticed right away that her dorm didn’t have any.
“There was no hand soap, which is weird,” Thomas said. “I thought to bring my own hand soap, but my roommates didn’t bring so they still don’t have any hand soap. That’s all they gave us.”
Quarantined students are only permitted to order food from Campus Dining and can’t order through Uber Eats or DoorDash. Each day, students are asked to make their dining selections by 10 a.m. Dinner and the following day’s breakfast and lunch is then delivered at 5 p.m.
Students can use either their meal plan or a credit card to pay for their food, which costs $5.25 for breakfast and $10 for lunch and dinner. Prior to the semester, Thomas purchased a Flex 10 plan, which provides her with 10 meals per week. She had intended to cook her other meals.
But now she doesn’t have a choice. Her room doesn’t come with a microwave — Campus Living said that certain comforts of home, like a microwave, “are not permitted due to limited electrical capacity in these rooms” — so she has no way of cooking or even reheating.
And she has reservations about the food being delivered to her dorm. After she requested fresh fruit, Campus Dining responded in an email, “We will try our best to provide you a citrus fruit when it is possible but we cannot guarantee we will have oranges or lemons available every day.” (In a statement, a spokesperson said that “Campus Dining and Shops has made adjustments to the meals and is providing additional fruit and bottled water.”)
“It feels like they just scooped the food from C3,” Thomas said. “But at C3, I can pay $10 and get whatever I want. Here they give us a little tray of chicken legs and a little rice for $10.”
Thomas has been able to get some work done and has video chatted with her friends. She said her room in Goodyear — each student has access to a suite, which consists of two rooms and a bathroom — is spacious and hasn’t been bad. But she isn’t allowed to leave her suite — leaving her in a mental health bind.
In a statement, Campus Living said that in “addition to daily food delivery, staff members reach out to students in quarantine each day to find out how they’re doing, and whether they need any assistance, either for academic or personal reasons.”
But Thomas said that hasn’t been her experience. She said that certain people from Campus Living have been particularly helpful, but that she feels forgotten on South Campus.
“On an individual basis, some of the RAs and staff members are really trying [to help]. But UB as a whole, I’m not seeing that,” she said.
In a statement, a spokesperson said that Campus Living is “working around the clock” to ensure that students receive the care and attention they need.
“We realize that a small number of students in on-campus quarantine have not been happy with certain aspects of that experience and we are working diligently to resolve any issues that arise,” the statement read. “The last thing we want is for students to feel as though quarantine is a punitive measure. We want to assure students that we are making every effort to ensure that their quarantine accommodations are safe and comfortable. We will continue working to improve these accommodations as best we can.”
Thomas wants UB to acknowledge that the university was not prepared to care of students in quarantine and for administrators to stop insisting they are taking good care of students.
“I think they should acknowledge the fact that these aren’t the accommodations they’re making it out to be,” Thomas said. “Because they’re making it sound like they’re providing us with everything that we need, that it’s perfect. But that hasn’t been my experience. They should acknowledge the fact that these conditions aren’t that great and that they should have done a better job.”
* Student’s name has been changed because she fears retaliation
Justin Weiss is the senior features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.