Syracuse, N.Y. — Juan Rivera and Payton Dunn have begun their college careers at Syracuse University by spending their first two weeks in quarantine.
They spend 23 hours a day inside. There is no air conditioning. They are allowed to interact with a group of only 15 to 20 people. With their one hour of time outdoors, they are checked in and out of the dorm and given strict instructions on the path they’re allowed to walk. Food is delivered to a common room each day in brown paper bags and delivery options are forbidden.
About 3,000 Syracuse students from 34 different states are subject to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s quarantine orders. Those orders require individuals coming to New York to live apart from other people for 14 days to avoid any chance they pass on the virus.
Most Syracuse students are doing their quarantine off campus but about 420 are doing it in dorm rooms, an experience that is costing some SU freshmen $1,000.
The most important thing, both say, is that they might be in isolation but they are not actually alone.
The school has split arriving students into “family units” that include students living on three floors in each residence.
“It’s weird to be only allowed outside an hour a day, and we can’t have food delivered, but at least we can interact with the group we’re here with,” Rivera said. “The social interaction takes away from us thinking it’s like prison. I don’t think it’s been that bad. But it’s also only been a few days. It might get tougher.”
Dunn, who is from Richmond, Virginia, lives on the second floor of Sadler Hall and can interact with 20 students on the bottom three floors. Rivera, who is from West Palm Beach, Florida, lives on the 11th floor of Lawrinson Hall and can interact with about 15 students from floors 11, 12 and 13.
They hang out with each other in common areas. They often coordinate group meetings through social media. They’re supposed to either keep their distance or wear masks when they are together.
Students are not monitored during those interactions or during limited time outside the dorms.
Syracuse recently announced that a group of students had been placed under interim suspension for violating quarantine orders. It did not say whether those students were among the 420 students quarantining in dorm rooms or if they were quarantining elsewhere.
Move-ins were done quickly last weekend, with each receiving about an hour to get supplies into their living spaces. Rivera moved in by himself. Dunn’s mom helped. They checked in at Manley Field House, where the school conducted coronavirus screening of students through saliva pool sampling.
The school said it would have results in 72 hours. Neither student has been told the results of their pool but, if they had been positive, the school’s reopening plan dictates each would be tested individually. Neither one has.
Rivera said many members of his cluster have gotten to know each other by playing card games. Sometimes the distancing rules get bent but they always wear masks when they are together. The newness of the experience and meeting new people has kept it from feeling too boring.
The quarantined students get a small breakfast and two more meals delivered to a common area each morning where students take it from a table in a brown paper bag. Students choose from four meals for lunch and dinner each day, from sandwich wraps to hamburgers to Thai food.
“It’s been surprisingly good,” Dunn said.
Rivera said students in his group still crave delivery from local restaurants. He said they have been told that the school is trying to set up a system that would allow students to obtain those meals.
“Everyone is craving something normal,” Rivera said.
The biggest challenge, they expect, is the potential of going stir-crazy.
For two weeks the students will be expected to remain indoors in their three-floor pod for 23 hours a day. They are permitted one hour outside that is scheduled by the school. The school has created paths they are supposed to stay on, to avoid others.
“I’m allowed to walk around the Visual and Performing Arts building, Falk and Maxwell, and around a few parking lots,” Dunn said.
Students check out and check in at the dorm. Sometimes it’s done via paper. Sometimes, Department of Public Safety officers take IDs and return them when students come back.
Dunn said the biggest challenge is spending so much time indoors in rooms without air conditioning. He’s set up three fans in his dorm room, propping them up on Pringles cans to aim them.
“It gets ridiculously hot in the dorms,” Dunn said. “I brought two fans. They supplied me a third, but it takes a while to cool down.”
Rivera is participating in the school’s Summer Start session, giving him classwork to occupy his days and new classmates to fill his nights. Dunn is part of the school’s Bandier program and spends much of his free time on his computer, where he mixes and produces music. His roommate is a rapper, and the pair have already collaborated on one song, titled “Remember the Alamo,” that Dunn finished during quarantine.
The school has put together some digital programming. Some of it focuses on important school issues like sexual assault, while others attempt to teach students about campus traditions. Some are open forums allowing students to meet and have conversations with those in other dorms.
“It keeps me from going absolutely insane,” Dunn said. “It is boring a little bit because there’s not as much choice for stuff to do. But I think Syracuse is doing a good job trying to keep us pretty busy.”