The COVID-19 pandemic has brought plenty of changes to the Lawrence University campus, including the transformation of Kohler Hall from the university’s most tranquil residence hall to what students now call the quarantine tower.

During Fall Term, Kohler provided a temporary home for 89 students who had either entered isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 or had been sent into quarantine as the result of contact tracing. Over the course of the term, 43 students were diagnosed with the virus. See Lawrence’s COVID-19 Dashboard here, which shows the weekly numbers and includes updates for Winter Term.

With a full term of quarantine and isolation to draw from, I talked to a number of students who have had the Kohler experience, as well as the staff members who keep the residence hall functioning. This story offers a glimpse of life in quarantine or isolation and provides students with best practices and tips to make it through the two weeks should you find yourself in Kohler this term.

The quarantine and isolation processes are difficult, and understandably scary—but you can be prepared.

Note: No student names are used for the sake of privacy.

First contact

One Fall Term Kohler resident has two words to describe how she felt when she was first informed that she had been exposed to COVID-19 from a fellow student: sheer terror.

“When I saw that text, my heart just dropped,” she said. “It felt like getting into a car crash. It was that same sort of anxiety response—sort of like an out-of-body experience.”

Fortunately, help was on the way.

As soon as you get that first message, Lawrence’s team sends you a list of instructions with all the fundamentals for life in Kohler: what to pack, how to move in, and dorm expectations, to name only a few of the topics covered.

This list covers the basics, the things everyone needs to know. The next step is to take a deep breath and think about what you, personally, are going to need in order to make it through two weeks in isolation or quarantine.

If you’re sensitive to temperature changes, make sure to pack plenty of sweaters and blankets. If you require a well-lit workspace to feel alert and awake, bring fairy lights or an extra lamp to decorate your room. If you’re the type of person who gets snacky throughout the day, don’t forget to grab that extra-large carton of goldfish on your way out the door.

But if you can’t even begin to figure out what you might need, that’s OK, too. Curt Lauderdale, the dean of students, Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life and chaplain to the University, and Terra Winston, the associate dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, are available to answer your questions and talk through any concerns—even if, as one student recalls from the day leading up to her isolation period in Kohler, the conversation goes on for eight hours.

Day-to-day living

While you’re cooped up inside Kohler, doing your part to keep the campus community safe, there is a network of people on the outside who are available to help with your daily needs.

Spiritual and Religious Life has a set of items students might find comforting during their stay, and if they don’t have what you want in stock, they’ll go to your residence hall to gather what you may have forgotten in your haste to leave. Jill Drier, director of health services and campus nurse, will pick up waiting prescriptions from a local pharmacy to be delivered to students in Kohler. If need be, Lauderdale will even take on the role of DoorDasher, as he did last term after a student in Kohler contacted him about a mix-up with her meal delivery.

And that team is expanding—Lawrence is hiring two students to provide hospitality for individuals in quarantine. In addition to being on-call during the weekends, these new hires are tasked with offering potential social programming to help connect students in Kohler with other students.

“Beyond moving to a new space, with different sounds, smells, and a new rhythm, the emotional background noise of possibly—or actually—feeling sick, worrying about friends, or simply having even more things to do often creates motivation and focus challenges,” Morgan-Clement said. “We find that a series of contacts via email to help normalize responses, reactions, and invitations to be in touch increases the student’s sense that they are not bothering someone and that their request or question would be welcomed.”

However, despite these resources, every former Kohler resident I spoke to agreed that during your time in Kohler, you need to find your own ways to keep yourself grounded and engaged with the world outside those walls.

For one student, it was Zoom movie nights and periodic messaging with friends. For another, it was regularly scheduled group meals over FaceTime. And for yet another, it was a daily phone call to his parents and masked and distanced walks along underused campus paths.

Whatever it is for you, these routines and connections will help you get through your two-week stay in Kohler.

“If I had to give advice to someone moving into Kohler, I would highly recommend doing everything possible to continue to feel human,” said one student who was sent into quarantine through contact tracing. “Whether that means working out, talking to your family or friends every day, or something else, you will need normalcy and sanity.”

Staying healthy

Moving into isolation doesn’t mean that you’re just stuck in a room for 10 days to fight off this virus by yourself. Wellness Services is deeply involved in addressing all the health issues you may face while living in Kohler.

After receiving news of your exposure and/or positive test result, Drier will reach out to you personally to discuss medical aspects, ranging from your health condition to COVID-19 testing instructions and protocols. From there, she will become your designated contact for any and all medical matters, routinely checking in and responding to any concerns you may have.

“I would like students to know that we are here for them, and please reach out if they need anything or have questions,” Drier said. “We understand that living in isolation or quarantine is less than ideal and we want to help students through the process.”

But health encompasses much more than medical symptoms, and being in isolation has the tendency to highlight this reality. Nevertheless, there are ways to manage the mental and physical toll of COVID-19.

To stay physically active and keep your head clear, one of the students I spoke to who was in quarantine recommended getting out of Kohler for a few minutes every day to feel the fresh air, staying distant from others in the process. Students who have tested positive will not be able to leave their rooms for exercise, but you can walk laps around the room, follow along with a YouTube yoga class, or, as another student suggested, challenge yourself with non-stop push-ups like “Iroh from Avatar the Last Airbender.

And when fear, loneliness, and doubt start to creep in, the students who experienced Kohler recommend that you take full advantage of Lawrence’s counseling services. In addition to walk-in hours and crisis appointments, students can contact Wellness Services to set up a virtual appointment with a counselor at any time. If you call during business hours, the appointment may even be scheduled for the same day.

Quarantining in Kohler is inevitably a difficult experience. But there are resources to help you get through it.

“The disruption of quarantine or isolation is manageable and can even be a time to step away from the ‘Lawrence busy’ to try some new things,” Morgan-Clement said. “There is a team that makes this possible . . . We are all learning together, and each person has a different story.’”