‘I felt isolated’: Warwick freshers tell us their experiences of getting Covid at uni

‘We were only allowed to leave to get fresh air for five minutes’

For many of those in the class of 2020, starting uni has been nothing short of a stressful disappointment, thanks to the raging pandemic that has turned life upside down.

We spoke to some Warwick first year students about their experience of starting uni during a pandemic and catching the illness themselves.

‘We weren’t allowed to cook our own food’

Neil, who currently lives in Rootes, dealt with a fair amount of disruption to his Economics and PAIS course.

Despite having more mild symptoms, his flatmates started to experience severe and Covid-specific symptoms, so they decided to get tested.

But Neil told The Warwick Tab that upon completing their tests, they were given some unexpected news. “We just thought we’d have to isolate in our rooms and kitchens. However, we got the test done and found out that we had to move away to Arden to be isolated in a room… they made it compulsory.”

Warwick’s policy is to relocate students from shared bathroom accommodations to a conference centre bedroom so that they can entirely isolate from other students for the duration of their self-isolation period. Information that this could happen was provided here, on Warwick’s Life in Halls webpages.

Neil went on to discuss the “ordeal” of having to relocate to Arden, saying, “we weren’t allowed to cook or make our own food. We either had to get delivery or [have] the Warwick food which didn’t taste great.”

Warwick’s conference centres do not have kitchen facilities for communal use, and as such the university provides three meals a day delivered to isolating students in the conference centre, at no cost to them.

The university also told The Warwick Tab it provided a free delivery service for these students to order additional shopping for themselves.

Neil expressed his frustration at the lack of communication about the entire process, “mentally it was a bit hard to stay alone in a room with no social interaction, and they really should’ve told us that we would get shipped off to some random place if we were to get tested.”

With coronavirus rules restricting students from returning to campus, previously busy Library Road now looks deserted

‘We were only allowed to leave to get fresh air for five minutes’

Immi, also living at Rootes and studying History and PAIS, was another student who was asked to relocate to a different accommodation due to a positive test result.

“On the way back from my Covid test, I got a call from the warden who said I had to be moved to the Radcliffe Conference Centre on campus.” Immi was told to pack enough clothes and essentials for the two-week isolation period in case her test came back positive.

“I had absolutely no idea about this procedure and it came as a massive shock which was really stressful,” she told The Warwick Tab. “I had to move within half an hour and was then put in a hotel room, where we were told we weren’t allowed to leave unless to get fresh air for five minutes outside.”

Immi went on to say that she felt there was little support from the university, other than a few wellbeing calls. “The whole thing was really anxiety inducing and there was little communication as to when I was allowed to leave… the pure shock of it all was quite unsettling.”

The university told The Warwick Tab there were wellbeing calls placed to students moving to self-isolation in the conference centres, who would also receive a call from the Senior Warden to “talk them through the transfer and any queries they had”, along with a detailed email explaining the transfer and the reason for it, and that “students were encouraged to call back if they had any issue.”

‘I felt isolated’

Georgie, a fresher living in Bluebell, expressed her difficulty in dealing with the severe fatigue brought on by contracting Covid.

“Before I finally accepted the fact that I had Covid, I would get up at 8am every morning to do my work,” she explained. “I remember reading one of my course books and waking up with my head resting on it open and an hour had passed.”

“I felt pretty isolated for the whole of term one” –  Georgie

She also experienced extreme nausea, at times having a strong urge to vomit without warning. Georgie also explained that due to the university changing self-isolation times, she ended up having to isolate for 20 days, instead of the government advised 10 days.

Warwick responded that “at all times the University took advice from the local Public Health on how to mitigate risk in residential halls. This evolved over time and reflected the different natures of halls across campus as well as the different types of bathroom and kitchen group sizes.”

Describing her isolation experience, Georgie said: “It was a very long time, I already felt extremely homesick and haven’t made many friends on my course so having to stay in for three weeks really didn’t help matters. I felt pretty isolated not just for that period but for the whole of term one.”

‘Warwick did not do well in handling students’ stress and anxiety’

Sam*, a first year studying PAIS, currently residing at Bluebell, spoke of how he tested positive during Freshers’ Week, which led to a lonely and detached start to university life. “I slowly but surely felt that I was sort of disconnected from the rest of the university. Sitting behind a screen and not being able to get in touch with people physically stressed me out.”

He also claimed that despite calling Warwick’s wellbeing services, he received no help, and no one answered his calls. It resulted in him having to return to his native Germany at the request of his parents, in order to fully recover mentally and physically from the effects of Covid.

In response to this, the university said they “we obviously cannot comment further without the details as to when these calls may have been made and by whom they were made and to.”

Sam said: “In general, it seemed like the uni did not do well in handling the mental stress and anxiety of students, it really pulled me off from my work and I have never missed home so badly”.

He also made clear a point that resonates with many students: “[The university] cannot expect the same quality of work and normalise the stress and fear we are going through.”

Campus facilities are returning, with the Library reopening for the end of term, but isolating freshers are still confined to their halls

In response to the allegations, Warwick gave the following statement: “Students were only moved to one of our conference centres bedrooms if they had taken a PCR test (because they believed that they had Covid-19 symptoms) through the University’s test and trace system and only if they were living in a residential hall that had shared bathroom facilities which meant they could not isolate entirely from other students.

“If the test came back negative then they returned to their original hall. If the results were positive for COVID-19, then the student was asked to see out their self-isolation period in the conference centre.

“While in the conference centre they were provided with three meals a day at no cost to them.

“The information that this could happen was on the Life in Halls web pages.”

Further to this, they linked to “several detailed emails this academic year, starting in September 2020, to all students on Covid-19, including information of self-isolating, what support was available to them and the university’s own Covid-19 Safety Guide.”

The university also linked to their webpages on self-isolation, Warwick’s Covid-19 safety guide and their coronavirus page, and said that a Senior Warden also sent a detailed email to every student who was to temporarily move.

Warwick continued, responding to the students’ experiences in conference centres: “The students were provided with three meals a day delivered to their rooms, at no cost to them whilst they were in self-isolation. If they wished they were also able to order additional shopping for themselves from the using the University’s free delivery service which was set up to assist these students.

“There are no kitchen facilities for communal use in the conference centres (Being in self-isolation would preclude the use of such facility anyway).

“There were wellbeing calls placed to the students who were in self-isolation in the conference centres. They also received a call from the Senior Warden to talk them through the transfer and any queries they had. Students were also encouraged to call back if they had any issues.

“Students in the conference centre also had access to the reception desk if they had any queries. On the suggestion that a specific call or calls to wellbeing was/were not answered we obviously cannot comment further without the details as to when these calls may have been made and by whom they were made and to.”

*Some names have been changed to allow students to speak freely

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Our top tips for staying motivated whilst studying online at Warwick Uni

• ‘Angry and disheartened’: students on Warwick’s closed campus facilities

• Answer these eight questions and we’ll tell you what classic Warwick pub you are