Jaclyn Vander Waal– Staff Writer
Caden Hill expected his first day of his freshman year at Dordt University to be in person. Instead, he has spent his time in a hotel room working on online homework, attending Zoom meetings, calling his family, watching TV, and completing “prison workouts” of pushups or squats.
In an attempt to keep Dordt’s classes in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, students are being quarantined at hotels in Rock Valley and Sioux Center.
Robert Taylor, vice president for student success and dean of students, said students qualify for quarantine at the hotels in two ways: through contact tracing or by showing symptoms of COVID-19. Students who have tested positive for COVID-19 are isolated separately from those quarantined. Male students who have tested positive stay in the Houtkooper house, and female students stay in the Alumni Guest House.
Chloe Kohl, a sophomore public relations major, went on a Walmart run with a friend. A day later, she was connected to the friend through contact tracing after testing positive for COVID-19 and sent into quarantine.
“He was tested because he plays a sport, not because he felt any symptoms, so I didn’t think it’d be a problem to go to Walmart with him,” she said.
For 14 days, quarantined students get a hotel room to themselves. Rooms include a TV, a small refrigerator, a microwave, air conditioning, two queen beds, a desk and a bathroom.
Sophomore computer science major Lafe Wessel, said his quarantine hotel room is quite spacious in comparison to his dorm room on campus. He enjoys the air conditioning, the big bed and the quiet atmosphere.
Hill, who started his manufacturing tech education online in a hotel room, said he feels blessed by the Dordt community even while being away from campus. Fellow students and members of Student Services were willing to bring everything he needed or wanted to his room.
Food from the Commons is brought in a bag to the students by Dordt faculty or volunteers three times a day. They knock on the door and leave.
“They must bolt out of here because they are never around when I open my door,” Kohl said. The students made it clear, however, that the circumstances are not ideal.
“This experience has made me want todrop out more than any experience yet, which is saying a lot,” Wessel said. “I hate this hotel and this hotel room and just want to go back to Dordt. I am thankful that I was not sent straight home, but this experience has in no way improved my rather dismal view of Dordt’s leadership. If they try to send me back here or home for any reason, I will be pursuing a refund of my tuition and be dropping out to find a different scholastic institution at which to get my degree.”
Hill had similar sentiments: “Being quarantined in a hotel was one of the top three most miserable periods of time I’ve ever experienced. Just being alone for so long through the day is brutal enough. But being confined to that space also took a bit of a toll on my body because I am used to lots of physical activity. I play football. I eleven out of ten do not recommend.”
Kohl’s schedule was simple: “Sleep. Homework. TV. FaceTime. More sleep.” She did not have much to do at the hotel, yet she found ways to keep herself entertained.
“My entire friend group was exposed,” she said. “A lot of them were sent to the hotel with me. I’ll sometimes open my door and visit with them across the hallway.”
Wessel found other ways to keep occupied.
“Things get better the more you bend the rules, which is sometimes necessary for the sake of maintaining sanity and a will to live,” he said.
Overall, Taylor has been pleased with how students are reacting to the coronavirus situation. He said their efforts of social distancing and wearing masks will help ensure that campus life will function until Christmas break on Dec. 11.
“We are thankful to be here together,” he said. “We are proud of how our students are responding. They are doing a remarkable job.”
Yet, Taylor realizes that improvements still can be made. He said many people who go into quarantine were listed in contact tracing because they ate meals together in places like the Defender Grille or the Commons. He thinks that if students would get better at social distancing and keeping meal times under 15 minutes, far less students would be taken to quarantine.
Taylor said keeping the contact list down is important. He said what could overwhelm the system is if too many people with no symptoms must go into quarantine for 14 days.
Still, his outlook remains positive.
“We have to believe we can do this, and I really believe we can,” Taylor said.
Hill agrees. He encourages Dordt students to see social distancing from a new perspective.
“I would like everyone to know that it is way easier to break away six feet every 12 to 15 minutes than it is to sit alone in a hotel room away from our wonderful campus,” Hill said. “I just encourage others to be mindful about the situation at our hands.”