AUSTIN (KXAN) — Kate Parks came down with a cough on Monday. By Tuesday, the University of Texas at Austin student from north Dallas, who was living in an on-campus dorm, said she wasn’t feeling any better.
She has had several bouts with bronchitis over the past few months and wanted to play it safe, so she decided to reach out to UT Health Services. Parks said she was eventually tested for COVID-19 at a drive-up clinic in a parking garage on campus.
Parks said she was told her results would take anywhere from two to seven days, and she might need to isolate until the results the came back.
She lives in a private dorm room on campus at the Kinsolving Residence Hall and uses a community bath shared with others. An emergency services case worker contacted her to help figure out the next steps.
“At first they were going to move me to a different room in the dorm with a private bath,” said Parks.
Parks said there was confusion over what to do, and eventually emergency services called back and said she needed to go to the city’s isolation facility — a converted Austin hotel designated for people who have tested positive for the virus or think they may have it. It is free to stay there, and guests get three meals a day and have access to minor medical care, mental healthcare and WiFi.
UT Austin does not have its own isolation facility on campus. As previously reported by KXAN, students with COVID-19 — or suspected of having it — are expected to isolate off-campus.
“For a little bit there I was losing my head, because I felt like I was in the dark, like I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. So like hour to hour I was thinking, ‘where am I going to be by the end of the evening?'”
Parks also spoke with her mom back in Dallas, who was willing to come get her.
“My grandmother lives with us and if I have COVID and I bring it back, I don’t want to put her at risk,” said Parks.
Parks’ best option was going to the isolation facility, but her next issue was finding transportation. She parks her car far away from campus and could not take public transportation or a ride share to get there knowing she could have COVID-19.
The university told her she could go by ambulance.
“That’s a lot of money,” said Parks. “And the image of me with my stuff wearing a mask and coughing and getting into the back of an ambulance in front of my dorm in the evening where people are going to the dining hall — that just caused panic.”
A friend eventually went and picked up Parks’ car for her, and she drove herself to the isolation facility.
Parks said she received her COVID-19 test result around 3 p.m. Wednesday, which was negative. She immediately called and told her emergency services case manager, who said he would get back with her on what to do next.
When she spoke to KXAN Thursday morning around 10 a.m. via Zoom from her room at the isolation facility, Parks said she had not yet heard back on what to do next.
“I got this impression from UHS and from emergency services that I would be in isolation for 10 days regardless of whether I had tested positive,” said Parks.
She is concerned about going back to campus where the number of new positive coronavirus cases rose to 42 on Wednesday — the highest level reported in a single day since the pandemic started.
“Now I have this anxiety if I’m going back to my campus where there is COVID, and it’s been in my building, it’s very likely there are more people in my dorm who might have it,” said Parks. “I could pick it up from there, that puts me in danger.”
Based on reporting from the campus newspaper, The Daily Texan, there has been at least one person in her dorm who has tested positive.
Parks said as of Thursday morning, she was still not feeling well but had not received medical care for what she suspects is bronchitis.
By Thursday afternoon, she made the decision to drive home to be with her family in north Dallas.
“I’m certain [the university] might have a smoother plan moving forward for other students, but I didn’t feel like that,” said Parks. “I felt like I was thrown into the pilot program of whatever the bleep they’re planning to do.”
UT Austin said it cannot comment on individual student cases due to privacy. KXAN is still waiting to hear back on how many other students have been sent to the city’s isolation facility.
In a statement regarding the rise in positive COVID-19 cases, University Health Services said they anticipated some of it as students arrived on campus. UHS also confirmed the numbers appear to reflect increased local transmission since the start of classes.
“This underscores how vital it is for all members of our community to comply with health protocols and with local and state orders on gatherings and social distancing. This is especially critical at this early stage in the semester and heading into the Labor Day weekend, as people make important health decisions about gathering with friends and family. Anyone who has had difficulty being consistent with safe social distancing, masking or other preventive measures should be especially cautious about visiting loved ones or other people vulnerable to the disease over the holiday.”Terrance Hines, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, University Health Services
Additionally, UHS continued to encourage students to get tested and reminded them that testing is offered on-campus for free.
KXAN has also reached out to the city regarding UT students at its isolation facility, and is waiting on a response.
Dr. Fauci: Do not send students home
This week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, urged colleges to not send students home if at all possible.
“It’s the worst thing you could do,” he said Wednesday on NBC’s “TODAY” show. “When you send them home, particularly when you’re dealing with a university where people come from multiple different locations, you could be seeding the different places with infection,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
On Monday, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, cautioned governors on a call that college students could become a source of outbreaks beyond campuses.
How are other universities handling isolation?
The protocol at universities varies when it comes to how they’re handling students who test positive for the virus, or are waiting on COVID-19 test results and need to quarantine.
Texas State University requires students to leave their dorm room and isolate at home. If they’re unable to go home, students are required to isolate in a university-owned apartment until they leave or recover. Isolation apartments are separate from other apartments.
Texas A&M University in College Station requires students who test positive to self-isolate either at home, off-campus, in an isolation room on campus or at a hotel if on-campus isolation rooms are full.
The University of Houston has no designated space for students to isolate on or off campus. Students must go home to self-isolate and await approval to return to campus.
The University of Texas at San Antonio has designated spaces for students to isolate or quarantine in residence halls, especially for students who cannot travel home.
Students at Baylor University can self-quarantine on or off-campus. On-campus residents with a meal plan who need to quarantine will received meal delivery, and will be placed in self-isolation housing provided by the school.
Texas Christian University is allowing students to isolate in their rooms if they have a private bathroom and don’t share a room. If that’s not possible, students will be moved to a designated on-campus isolation facility or in a nearby off-campus apartment acquired specifically for isolation.