More UofSC students in quarantine as cases on campus rise, here’s a look inside

The university has also resumed limited COVID-19 saliva-testing
Updated: Sep. 8, 2020 at 7:19 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The University of South Carolina resumed its saliva COVID-19 testing Tuesday morning, but only offered the tests to the first 200 students in line at Davis Field. A university spokesman says the university is in the process of rebuilding capacity and working to expand personnel in their lab.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 9, there are a total of 654 active cases of COVID-19 at UofSC, according to the school’s dashboard.

Of those cases, 640 are students and 14 are employees.

Note those are active cases -- meaning those people are currently infected.

When looking at the total number of people who have had COVID-19 at UofSC since Aug. 1, the number of cases grows to 1,872.

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The university’s quarantine capacity is at 65.5%, but some students who have been placed in the newly acquired SpringHill Suites hotel rooms in downtown Columbia have been assigned roommates to ensure UofSC has enough space for students who need to isolate.

A university spokesman says the hotel has two full or queen-sized beds in most rooms, and if students have the same end date, they’ve been placed together. Some parents say they weren’t aware their child would have a roommate in isolation, and UofSC says any student who would prefer a single room should contact the University Housing Office.

Mason Howard, a UofSC senior, has been quarantined inside the National Advocacy Center on Pendleton Street in downtown Columbia for the past ten days. Howard lives on the Horseshoe and says she went to go get an on-campus saliva test because she saw case numbers rising, and she wanted to make sure she wasn’t unknowingly spreading the virus.

When she got the phone call that her test result was positive, she says she was shocked because she didn’t have any symptoms and immediately had to move into her designated quarantine facility. “That phone call didn’t happen until a little after 4 pm, and they told me that I had until 5 pm to move into the quarantine facility because that’s when the check-in desk closed,” Howard explained. “It was kind of a mad rush to pack. I didn’t know what I needed to bring.”

Howard has her own bathroom and television in her isolation room, but she hasn’t had any in-person interaction in ten days and can’t even open her window because it’s locked. “I joke with people that it feels like a jail cell,” she said. “You are trapped living the same life repeatedly over and over again every day, so another thing that was really hard with classes was to remember what day of the week it was because everything felt exactly the same.”

University employees knock on her door to drop off lunch, dinner, and breakfast for the next day every day at noon, and while she says she hasn’t been given options for her meals, she says the university has followed her dietary restrictions. “You don’t see the people who are dropping off your food. You don’t see the people picking up your trash. They just knock on your door and leave, so it was kind of surreal not having any human contact,” explained Howard.

Howard believes the coronavirus situation on campus is “alarming,” and she thinks changes need to be made now. “I don’t think it’s under control right now,” she said. “I know that a lot of other universities around the country have been going online for like two weeks to do kind of a stay at home order for a two week period to try to get everything under control to continue having a normal semester. I think that’s probably our best option to just switch all online for two weeks. Tell all students to stay at home, and see if we can get it back under control.”

Tuesday is Howard’s tenth and final day in isolation, and she checked out after our interview. She’s concerned the university isn’t requiring students in isolation to test negative before leaving the facility. “I felt safe while I was in the quarantine space, but I’m concerned about immediately after I get out, whether or not I’m still carrying the virus,” explained Howard. “They just have said that after the 10 days for people who test positive, they should be good to go. That’s a little alarming to me, so I think concern would definitely be my word for this whole process.”

Howard says seeing photos of students at bars, not social distancing or throwing parties is disheartening. “I just really hope that people are able to look at the bigger picture and see the surrounding community and the impact that they’re making on them,” she explained.

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