No two COVID-19 experiences are the same and Gonzaga students who test positive are finding their own ways to get through the period of isolation and figure out where they may have been exposed to the virus.
Junior Rachel Folkestad went in to be randomly tested on Oct. 28 and the next day, she was about to walk right into Target when a contact tracer called her informing her she tested positive and had to immediately go into isolation.
“I was in shock when I got that call. I wasn’t that sad about it but my emotions were all out of whack and I burst into tears right after the phone call,” Folkestad said.
The Washington Post reported on Nov. 4 that the United States surpassed 100,000 new COVID-19 cases in a day for the first time. Eight months after the U.S. declared a national emergency, cases continue to rise and the reality that this pandemic is far from over still hasn’t set in for some.
As of Tuesday, there has been a cumulative number of 111 positive COVID-19 cases among off- and on-campus students at GU recorded through the COVID-19 testing dashboard.
Senior Elissa Rankin is living with her best friend and her friend’s family in Spokane Valley. On Oct. 17 her friend and her friend’s family attended a wedding in North Idaho and everyone who attended the wedding tested positive.
“On Thursday [after the wedding], I was showing symptoms,” Rankin said. “Unfortunately, I had been around another person in my bubble, another friend and had transmitted the virus to that friend. Before my roommate and her family showed any symptoms, it traveled that quickly and it is that contagious.”
Fortunately, the friend she had transmitted it to was able to isolate before spreading it to anyone else, Rankin said.
That Thursday, Oct. 22, Rankin and her roommate tested positive, she began her isolation period and was free to be in public on Nov. 2.
Since her whole household had COVID-19 together, Rankin said quarantining wasn’t a big deal.
As someone who has had an up close and personal look into the effects of this virus on Spokane community members and who has also tested positive herself, Rankin emphasizes the importance of keeping your circles small.
“Public health and wellness has been one of my main focuses at Gonzaga and it’s nice to finally be able to participate in it because so much of the nursing program is geared toward more traditional nursing,” Rankin said.
Rankin has been working alongside Spokane Regional Health District’s (SRHD) COVID-19 unit this semester as part of her nursing major practicum.
“I was paired with a nurse on SRHD’s COVID-19 team who was in charge of congregate settings which means everything from homeless shelters to other group gatherings,” Rankin said. “I got to be a part of watching her administer COVID-19 tests.”
Rankin said there are two main options for isolation facilities in Spokane for people who can’t quarantine safely elsewhere due to the chance they could expose other vulnerable people.
One of them is the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center which is well-known as one of the places GU students go for Mission and Ministry retreats. Catholic Charities transitioned the space to an isolation facility since the pandemic started.
Rankin said at each isolation facility, each person has a private room, a private bathroom, Wi-Fi, TV and the hotel even provides iPads for people.
Rankin did triage at homeless shelters in Spokane, taking everyone’s temperature, asking if they have symptoms and if anyone met the criteria test of symptoms, they would be asked to isolate and be tested.
“That means the health district provides transportation to one of the isolation facilities and in the morning, I would go with my nurse to test them,” Rankin said.
Rankin said it was really amazing to her how many members of the community are dedicated to taking care of our most vulnerable populations in this.
The nursing program had outlined prior to the start of the year that nursing students had to take the risk of conducting clinicals in person to stay on track with their major, Rankin said.
However, her professors have been supportive and have provided some extensions to deadlines as the fatigue and brain fog have been the hardest to handle for Rankin.
“I’m not coughing, my throat doesn’t hurt and I don’t have these horrendous headaches or body aches anymore but why am I not able to focus? Why am I not able to get these things done?,” Rankin said.
Rankin said GU’s COVID-19 Response Task Force helped make sure she got the medications she needed and she had food available. Her contact tracer was particularly supportive in liaising with her professors.
As for Folkestad, she said she has been kind of losing her grip on reality being stuck during her isolation but feels lucky she has been asymptomatic this entire time.
She was in quarantine for 10 days and was out on Monday while her housemates, who all tested negative, also had to quarantine, but for 13 days because they were close contacts.
Folkestad said they were allowed to use the kitchen and go to the bathroom while wearing a mask whereas she could only use her bathroom, just two steps from her bedroom door, while wearing a mask.
“Our blinds have been closed this past week,” Folkestad said while she was in quarantine. “Our house is very quiet. It’s never this quiet. I live with seven other girls so there is eight of us total and usually it’s pretty loud and now you could drop a pin and you would hear it, that’s how quiet our house has been.”
The hardest thing about this experience for Folkestad was not being able to see her housemates. Since she was diagnosed the Thursday before Halloween, Folkestad said she and her housemates had plans to dress up together and hang out but she wasn’t able to celebrate.
For election night, Folkestad and her housemates all zoomed each other and watched the results come in.
“We were joking that we were going to have a little party and sit in our living room and watch it together and deal with the stress and we sort of did over Zoom but we weren’t able to be around each other,” Folkestad said.
Folkestad has gotten through isolation thanks to a lot of Hulu, Netflix, sleep and TikTok.
“I’ve been trying to teach myself some TikTok dances to get some exercise because I’m not taking very many steps in a day,” Folkestad said.
Folkestad said GU has also been really helpful in her and her housemate’s cases, providing resources and individual support through the contact tracers.
“Especially compared to larger schools, I think GU is handling it really well,” Folkestad said. “I don’t know how many people are going to come for second semester but I know students who weren’t here first semester might come next semester and [I wonder] how bringing everyone back from winter break, what that is going to look like if the numbers of COVID-19 cases increase.”
Folkestad only interacted with her housemates and their boyfriends the entire semester and said she thought she was doing everything she needed to.
Folkestad had no job on campus, wasn’t going to classes in person and only left the house, with a mask, for an occasional Starbucks run or to buy groceries.
“If you think you’re being safe I would add a couple more precautions to your life,” Folkestad said. “I had no clue where I got it but everyone I came in contact with has had negative results.”
Rankin said students should realize how stressful it is to worry about whether you’ve passed it onto someone else.
“Don’t underestimate how guilty you will feel and the moral weight of your responsibility in this time to protect yourself and protect your loved ones and random people you pass on the street,” Rankin said. “I so get the quarantine fatigue but it is not worth it.”