‘I felt like a guinea pig’: student’s ‘awful’ quarantine experience prompts UI apology

After a student’s ‘awful’ experience in a COVID-19 isolation room circulated social media, the UI Housing and Dining released a statement apologizing to students.


Currier Residence Hall is seen on Friday, May 1, 2020.

Rachel Schilke, News Editor

The University of Iowa issued an apology to students after a student who tested positive for COVID-19 detailed her “awful” quarantine experience on social media beginning Wednesday, causing her story to go viral.

“I felt like a guinea pig. [I was] told one thing and completely experienced another. There are no words to describe how I am feeling, but I guess I’m just sad,” University of Iowa freshman Ann Gaughan said in an interview with The Daily Iowan after testing positive for COVID-19, and quarantining at the UI.

Gaughan said she experienced indifference from UI hall coordinators and dirty living conditions during her time in an isolation room in Currier Residence Hall, forcing her to return home to Illinois.

Gaughan tested positive for the coronavirus within two days of arriving in Iowa City, saying she may have contracted the virus from an emergency room in her hometown. She moved into Daum Residence Hall on Aug. 15 and, after testing positive at 6 p.m. on Aug. 16, relocated to a room in Currier.

Gaughan reported the room had dirt on the bed and on the ground, as well as an unclean sink and curtains. When she asked the hall coordinators why the room was in that condition, they said they had not anticipated anyone contracting COVID-19 within the first move-in day, so the rooms were not prepared, and spoke to her with indifference, she said.

“I asked if I could move rooms, and they said it was either stay in the room I was given or go home,” she said. “It was midnight, and my family was three hours away. I couldn’t leave campus, but I wouldn’t put anyone in there.”

She said while she was continuing to ask the hall coordinators for a new room in Currier, she had a panic attack and the paramedics were called to the residence hall.

“I couldn’t even stand up due to being away from home, and being diagnosed, and then chaos, because no one had any answers,” she said. “I felt alone and had no one to support me. I was exhausted from crying, so I gave in and stayed for the night. I slept on the floor, and woke up to ants crawling on my bed.”

Gaughan said she had a headache upon arrival to campus, but attributed it to stress and leaving her parents. She and her roommate, Kelsey Greenwood, began inspecting the COVID-19 care packages provided by UI residence halls and used the thermometer, discovering she had a small temperature, she said.

After deciding to get a COVID-19 test to be safe, she discovered that she had tested positive. 

“From about 7 p.m. until 11 p.m., there was very little communication,” she said. “I was sitting in my room with my roommate, and the RA did not know what to do. He didn’t know what the protocol was. The RA was so nice, and he said it was his first experience, so I felt bad.”

Gaughan said she felt uncomfortable when she said she reported she was told she could not tell her parents that she tested positive for COVID-19, as it would cause “unnecessary chaos”. She added that the resident assistant informed her that he was told that none of the individuals herself and her roommate had come into contact with would be quarantined or notified of her testing positive.

“I assumed some contact tracing was going to happen, but they said it was not necessary to tell them, and I felt uncomfortable,” she said. “So, I told them myself. I said, ‘I cannot in good conscience not tell you’.”

Gaughan’s story circulated anonymously on social media beginning Wednesday, and UI Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Senior Director of University Housing and Dining Von Stange released a statement on Thursday apologizing.

“The experience described does not meet the expectations of the university, Housing and Dining, and most importantly you, the students,” Stange said. “For that, I am deeply sorry.”

Stange said Housing and Dining was in contact with the student and the university was reviewing the processes for students who test positive with the virus, and that students should reach out to hall coordinators, their RAs, and other staff with feedback. 

As previously reported by the DI, the UI will begin releasing the current number of self-reported cases starting Aug. 28 in the UI COVID-19 Campus Update.

“I want to express my sincere apologies for the mistakes that have been made,” Stange said, “…and pledge our commitment to help make this semester one that is memorable, educational, and engaging.”

Greenwood said she felt mistreated being quarantined with someone who tested positive, even if it was temporarily, and believed that while the UI said it had a plan, the execution was flawed. 

“I believe the RA was not well informed, and I do not blame him for anything,” she said. “With the information he had, he didn’t know what to do. To my understanding he had to immediately call a higher up because of how unprepared the UI was. I think they tried to stick to a plan inapplicable to the situation due to the flaws that occurred.”

University of Iowa resident assistants penned a letter in August to UI Housing and Dining, demanding more transparency. The UI is setting aside 250-300 rooms for quarantine and isolation. 

Greenwood said she felt discomfort at having to quarantine in a room not meant for quarantining but was completely in compliance and understanding of the 14-day quarantine period. She asked for a new room and someone to come clean the room, as she did not want to be near or touch Gaughan’s belongings, but was repeatedly denied both requests, she said.

Greenwood said she went to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and tested negative for COVID-19. However, after spending some time outside on campus, she said she was told she had to re-quarantine, and was moved to a room on the top floor of Daum.

“I knew I tested negative, and [the UI] did not want to relocate me before,” she said. “I told them I should not be the only one quarantining, we intermingled with people from multiple floors [in Daum].”

Gaughan said she plans to return to campus Aug. 26, 10 days after she tested positive, and Greenwood said she would not return to campus until she was positive that it was safe for her to come back, and appreciated higher-level housing administration apologizing to her throughout the process.

“They have not stuck to the plan, or had one actually prepared,” Greenwood said. “Someone told Ann [Gaughan], ‘we had not had a chance to clean the rooms’. I believe the plans [the UI] had were unstable. There was nothing said to me about what I should do when one roommate tests positive and the other roommate has not been tested. I heard nothing of a plan, I was just told to sit and wait.”