Woodruff Native Jacob Carpenter Recalls Fight with Boredom, Frustration During COVID-19 Isolation at University of Kentucky
By Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
Jacob Carpenter is a natural extrovert.
When Carpenter, a 2020 graduate of Woodruff High School and current freshman at the University of Kentucky (UK), learned that he would be required to quarantine, alone, for 14-days due to possible COVID-19 exposure, he did not take the news all that well.
Carpenter was forced into isolation by the university after his roommate became stricken with the illness.
“My first reaction was pretty typical I would say,” said Carpenter. “I wondered why (my roommate) had tested positive even though all of the students had been tested just two weeks prior. I was very confused and wished the best for him. I knew he was going to have a rough quarantine and I would not be able to see him for a while. The news that came next shocked me when I was told that I would have to quarantine also. The incubation period of COVID-19 can last up to 2 weeks so I was forced to quarantine for 14 days. I was saddened by the news and I had no clue how I was going to make it for 14 days in isolation.”
The pandemic has forced colleges and universities to take drastic measures in attempts to curb the spread on campuses across the country, including quarantining students who have tested positive or others who have come into contact with those who have.
It was that latter scenario that compelled Carpenter to endure two weeks alone, with no personal contact with the outside world, and no autonomy to do things for himself outside the confines of a campus dormitory. All essentials were delivered, any human interaction was carried out virtually, and all classes were attended via online video streams.
If it were not for modern technology, said Carpenter, the isolation and boredom may have overpowered him. It still came close.
“The hardest part about isolation is dealing with the boredom,” he said. “I was able to pass the time with schoolwork, FaceTime, social media, YouTube, Netflix, and at-home exercises. I was unable to see anybody and it was pretty hard on me.”
All of his meals were delivered and placed outside his door. The menu options, he said, were equally as unappealing as the loneliness.
“Food was delivered three times a day,” Carpenter said. “The food was only decent sometimes. I was given microwave dinners once a day. Most of the food I did not even eat, so I definitely lost some weight, however, I made sure to stay hydrated every day.”
Worse than the isolation and unappetizing food was, at times, the desperation that began to set in. For Carpenter, who never meets a stranger and who feels most at home around his peers, the feeling was crushing.
“Multiple times I called my Mom while I was broken down, and I told her, ‘I can’t handle this quarantine anymore. I can’t deal with not being able to socialize. I’m not even supposed to be here and my first month at college is ruined,’” he recalled.
His confusion over the need to quarantine only made matters worse.
“The UK Health Corps made no sense with their reasoning as to why I needed to quarantine,” added Carpenter. “My roommate immediately quarantined in his room as soon as he started feeling sick, so what was the point of the Health Corps telling him to stay away from me if I was just going to have to eventually quarantine myself? The situation was ridiculous. Even though I told them that I had not been within six feet of him since he was sick, they still made me quarantine. One of the hardest parts was the confusion and overall handling of the situation. UK Health Corps may be right in how they acted, but I just hated being alone for 14 days straight. Around the fifth day of my quarantine is when I mentally hit an all-time low and began calling my parents, worried I may go insane. I was able to stick through though.”
Sarah Geegan of the UK Health Corps explained that each case is different, though quarantining those students who test positive as well as their roommates who have been exposed is, in the vast majority of cases, standard procedure on the university campus and those quarantine periods will usually run concurrently. It was this situation that forced Carpenter to isolate.
“Quarantine dates are different for roommates of positive individuals,” explained Geegan. “Because of the nature of the exposure, it is usually considered continuous, even if the roommate is properly isolating. Quarantine for roommates lasts the whole time the positive individual is in isolation in the home plus two weeks. So, a roommate will be quarantining from the moment of alert by UK Health Corps, until their positive roommate is cleared by the health department, plus two weeks. The only exception occurs if the positive individual has a bathroom connected to their room and does not enter any common spaces; if so, then the two weeks starts the day the roommate enters isolation. If the positive individual decides to leave the home and isolate elsewhere, the two-week time starts when the positive individual leaves.”
In an attempt to normalize his situation as best was possible, Carpenter turned his attention to his classes and assignments, hoping his time alone may allow him the opportunity to work ahead. They were best laid plans that were never realized, he acknowledged.
“I stayed focused on my schoolwork,” he said. “I figured I would be able to get ahead by a great deal, but college is a load of work so that never happened.”
Carpenter has been out of quarantine for several weeks now, having never gotten sick, but in hindsight he is thankful for the resources and support offered by the University of Kentucky, his dream school since childhood.
Aside from his crippling boredom-induced isolation period, he says, college has so far been a wonderful experience, even in the midst of a world-wide health crisis.
The university, he said, is doing a fantastic job of finding a middle ground between safety and the true college experience for its students.
“The experience has been great other than my quarantine,” said Carpenter. “Kentucky allows us students to go to dining halls and eat with a restricted capacity of people. We are able to go to some of our classes in person, but most of our classes are virtual. The staff provides tools for us to contact professors and teaching assistants if there are any issues. We can find most of our notes from either the Zoom meetings or from separate videos and slides under our course assignments and information. We are mandated to wear a mask and social distance everywhere we go. Classroom capacity is very limited and everything UK has done helps us to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Carpenter still did not escape the ordeal without a scare of his own. On September 11, a week after his quarantine ended, Carpenter woke up feeling ill. He had to undergo a COVID-19 test of his own, and his mother, Jessica, noted he was scared of possibly having to quarantine again. Fortunately, however, the test came back negative and Carpenter was feeling well soon after.
“His anxiety was through the roof,” his mother added.
Isolation does, at least, give one time to think and reflect. That was true for Carpenter as well. While he is grateful for the support of his university, he also harbors his on thoughts about the continued efforts to halt the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.
All in all, the experience has altered Carpenter’s perception of how colleges and universities should react to the growing number of cases on their campuses nationwide.
“From this experience I have learned that COVID-19 is very serious and that every precaution must be taken to prevent the spread,” he admitted. “Although, I have also learned that quarantining someone like me who has a very slim chance of having the disease is an extreme waste of resources (food) and waste of student health. I think that instead of quarantining me, the university should handle frat and sorority parties better because that is a key accelerant of the spread. I think that handling big gatherings is a must because that also accelerates the spread. I think that the solution to COVID-19 is finding a cure, and yes, that is very obvious, but our country and other countries worry about every other implication COVID has instead of realizing that the one thing that will solve every one of those implications is to find a cure.”
Still, the greatest lesson Carpenter learned during his time alone is one that is a compatible match to his personality.
“Personally, this experience has taught me that I thrive on social interaction,” he said. “I have definitely learned patience.”