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A Year in Quarantine: The Pandemic Through the Lens of UAlbany Students

By Meghan Brink | March 12, 2021

March 13, 2020 marks the day University at Albany students were notified that classes would be moving online following a weeklong spring break. In the following days, many students left campus for home, not realizing that they had just spent their last time in a classroom, their last time roaming about the world without masking, and their last time on the UAlbany campus for a while.

Students soon found themselves spending the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester studying via computer screen and navigating a strange new world of stay-at-home orders and online learning. It was a fearful period of unanswered questions, many of which we now have more clarity on.

As vaccinations begin to be administered to the public and students slowly trickle back into classrooms, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the original lockdown, a time when students faced sickness and job loss, but for some, a time when they discovered new sources of independence in a world placed on pause.

The following are snapshots from UAlbany students on how they survived and persisted during the global health crisis:

Sarah Clark, Senior, Communications:

“I was always fascinated by movies where catastrophes occur, or in history classes, when we learned about real-life catastrophes. I thought l would never live through something as devastating as a war, depression, or famine, until 2020.

In early March of 2020, our world began to flip upside down. People clung to news outlets, desperate for hope, as COVID-19 cases began to spread. Numbers rose and life quickly came to a halt, no matter who you were or where you were.

We went into a nationwide lockdown the day I was scheduled to leave on a spring break trip. I was sad, but I thought we would get back to normal life in a few days. Surely, I hoped at least by April 5, my 21st birthday. The President said we would be done with lockdowns by Easter.

Little did I know that I would be cancelling travel plans and preparing to celebrate my 22nd birthday alone. I have gained some important insights about catastrophes. I realize how short life can be and how valuable my close friends and family are. Nothing seems to surprise me anymore, and I have shed the thought that I will never live through a war, depression, or famine.”

Rafayah Murray, Freshman, Neuroscience:

“On March 13 I opened Snapchat and saw that many of my friends had posted about school being closed indefinitely due to this peculiar yet deadly virus spreading rapidly around the country. I thought it was a ruse to get students excited about not being in school. So I googled COVID-19, the symptoms, and how it was transmitted from person to person. That's when I realized that COVID-19 was a modern version of the Black Plague.

March was just the launching of a series of bizarre events labeled “Year 2020.” By April I knew that living cautiously was essential during a time when deaths due to a virus surpassed the number of people killed in World War II. My Bronx neighborhood became a hotspot for people contracting the virus and dying from it. I was terrified every time I left my house. I used to get sick a lot when I was younger, so now whenever I sniffled or felt a tingle in my throat, I thought I had COVID, and worried about getting the same subpar medical care as the other people in my neighborhood.

To avoid crowds, I had started going out only at night. On June 2, I decided to emerge from my cave and go for a walk to stare at some trees and feel the sun and breeze on my skin. That was the day my neighborhood broke into chaos, with people rioting and looting the local stores. There were trash cans on fire, shattered glass from store windows, garbage everywhere. Cops began flooding onto the streets and flying overhead in helicopters. The mayor announced a 6:00 p.m. curfew. That was the end of my nighttime walks.

One day, feeling nauseated, I asked my older sister to buy me a bottle of ginger ale. Within a few minutes, she ran back into the house, out of breath and sweating bullets. I asked her what had happened. She told me the street was full of cop cars and other cars full of undercover agents who followed everyone who looked suspicious, even her, a kid out buying a bottle of ginger ale. When she realized the car was following her, she ran back home, afraid of being arrested.

By August the number of COVID-19 cases had dropped dramatically, and it felt safer to be outside. I started to see friends and socialize a bit before returning to Albany. Dealing with COVID-19 in a new city and new school was nerve-wracking. I wasn't sure which areas of Albany had a high number of cases. Being isolated from my peers on campus made it difficult to make friends. I did make one friend, while I was outside taking a walk. She and I became very close over a short period of time. This was a comfort in this COVID year, when I, like everyone else, was taking a step back to observe the world around me in all its beauty and imperfections.”

Samuel Phillip, Junior , Economics and Journalism:

“Eight weeks of military grade lockdown ensued shortly after my arrival. The New Zealand I knew had been stripped of life. Streets were bare and the nation’s future prosperity was up in the air. Local cases of COVID-19 were increasing at an exponential rate, and everyone wondered if the lockdown would work.

In early May, after the last known case was isolated, the lockdown ended—one hundred and three days after it began. What followed was a year of pure bliss. The nation’s small sacrifice was met with a large reward—freedom.

I found myself living in a country where normal life was possible. I would watch the evening news with my family as Covid-19 continued to take its toll around the world. Then a few hours later I was out in the hustle and bustle of New Zealand nightlife. Athletes were competing again, playing in front of crowds that varied from fifty people at the local park to stadiums filled with forty thousand fans. Families got together over the Christmas holidays, while I joined thousands of other Kiwi rockers at sold-out New Year's music festivals.

So what am I doing today? I'm sitting in a house on Hudson Avenue, trying to finish my degree and waiting for the soccer season to start up. Maybe I threw away a slice of heaven, but the world keeps revolving, and the future holds something different at every turn.”

Dominique Jean, Sophomore, Journalism:

“A year ago, I remember walking to class, where I presented my project on Chinese censorship. A journalist had gone missing after reporting on a strange disease called the coronavirus, which I thought was something like the common cold.

The day school closed, I had an online test in nutrition. My teacher wanted to experiment with this new format. I didn’t know that this would be the first of many online tests.

I felt lucky to be at home attending my cousin's Sweet Sixteen, but then in late March my grandfather became very ill and was diagnosed with COVID-19. My grandmother and cousins had come to visit, and because all of us had been exposed, we had to quarantine together. Every night we would gather to watch the news as the deaths mounted in the city and in my neighborhood.

Because no visitors were allowed in New York City hospitals, my grandfather was alone. We could Facetime him, but seeing him in a hospital bed broke my heart. My grandfather is a stranger to hospitals. He was constantly asking when he could go home. Finally, he concluded he was going to die there. All my life my grandfather has lived with me, and I have never seen him sick. It was hard to focus on my classes, and I started to slack all around due to the anxiety. It took a huge toll on my mental and physical health.

Thankfully, after being bedridden with COVID-19 for almost a month, my grandfather was able to come home, which brought everyone to tears. We were worried he would get sick again, but as my mother, sisters, and I took care of him, he eventually returned to his old self.”

Trevor Dugan, Sophomore, Journalism:

“I can still remember the last time a public setting felt normal. It was March 13, 2020, the day I came home from my dorm in Albany. I had just stepped off the Megabus in Manhattan and was walking toward Penn Station. Nobody was wearing a mask. People were flooding the streets of New York, jetting in and out of storefronts, narrowly avoiding getting run over by taxis. Life seemed normal in the face of what was now being called a "pandemic". The next day, New York had its first two COVID deaths, and we were told our lives would be changing.

The months since last March have felt painfully similar. With the business closures and social distancing, life feels like a watered down version of what it should be. The days bleed into one another, with the routines rarely changing. With social interaction being discouraged, I’ve had to limit the people I see to my closest friends and my girlfriend. I can’t complain about that, though, because if I was on campus, I’d be paying $5,000 to be locked up in my dorm room.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve been doing online school from my home on Long Island, and I quickly realized that it’s impossible to expect the same quality of education when you will never meet your classmates or professors in person. My grades have stayed up, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not learning as much, not retaining as much information. It just doesn’t feel the same, and there are students who need the structure that in-person classes provide in order to succeed. Those students have been hung out to dry.

I will stay positive for this upcoming semester. The school has had a year to adjust to online learning; so I hope classes will go more smoothly. I just can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”

Flor Giypi, Freshman, English and Journalism:

“Eight months ago I found myself at an intersection. I could follow my dream to study literature and journalism, the two things I have been good at my whole life, by traveling to another continent, all alone, or I could keep doing what my family wanted: studying to be a nurse. I was stressed over exams, university applications, working, COVID, and the existential crisis inside of me.

I am only 18. Why did I have to bear the weight of so many decisions? Then I discovered something important about myself. I am a fighter. If I really want something, only a zombie apocalypse can stop me from achieving it. So I started consulting my own courageous self. I told her that for sure I could do it, that New York shouldn’t scare me, and that what is coming is better than what is gone.

The ironic part of my whole story is that I moved from Albania to Albany, which are two places that somehow have the same name but lie in two different continents and don’t have a lot of things in common. I don’t know why I decided to study in an American university, or why I chose Albany, but I remember feeling quite good when I first saw it online. I knew that one day I would be part of it. You know what they say about intuition, right?

I can’t say that I wasn’t afraid. At first, even thinking about it seemed impossible, but maybe the courage to go for it came from what a difficult year we had left behind. It was a year where all of us learned to fight and do what we like while we still have the time to do it, because one day we could wake up and find that time is no longer our friend.

They say America is the place for people who run. For now, I only know how to walk, but running is my goal, and people love their goals much more when they are no longer goals but become experiences.

When I found myself flying over the ocean all alone, except for the luggage that was carrying my dreams, I understood how fast time was passing and how much I had grown up. On first catching sight of New York from the airplane window, I knew that my dreams—no matter how much they cost me—would always be worth pursuing.”

Gabriel Calderon, Sophomore, Political Science:

“My COVID year began when I saw a New York Times article about a strange new pneumonia-like illness in China during a party on New Year’s Eve. I read the article in full and got a flashback of me watching “Contagion” (2011) when I saw the final scene of a bat dropping fruit in a pig pen. At first, I believed local authorities would expeditiously contain the situation like what happened to SARS in 2003.

By the end of January, I was home recovering from a mental breakdown and withdrawing from the spring semester. I kept hearing snippets of information from Wuhan that was not suppressed by Chinese censors and was astonished to discover that the virus had already killed a few hundred people. Articles included speculation about what would happen if the lunar New Year's festivities in China were carried on as normal.

By mid-February, the virus was detected in almost every country in Asia, and there was growing anxiety about an outbreak here in the U.S. By mid-March we had our first case in Westchester County, and the infected person lived only 20 minutes from the country’s largest population center. By this time, when I went to the New Rochelle Costco I saw the longest line I had ever seen.

A week later the unthinkable happened. My dinner of spiced and seasoned skirt steak had no taste. I told my mom to add more salt. Later that night while playing “Destiny 2” with my online friends, I had a massive migraine that forced me to stop playing for a few days. I felt very warm and my headaches came and went. I started checking my temperature. I had a low-grade fever of 100.2 degrees. I brushed it off, thinking it was a mild cold, but I could not have been more wrong.

Soon I was bedridden, not able to move my head more than a few inches to the left or right. Coughing, experiencing chills, I started to see things that were not there, listening to voices of friends that were not in my house, and my dreams became lucid. When I could, I would crawl out of bed to get a bowl of soup or consume Gatorade by the gallon. For two weeks I listened to sirens of ambulances rushing to the hospital near my house, watched my mother suffer from the same illness, and watched my dad almost die from pneumonia.

He was hospitalized and tested positive, which meant that my entire household had been infected. By April, seeing the fake news about COVID-19 made me so angry that I stopped using social media. The only news I got came from health bulletins on CNN. My TV became the ‘Terror Rectangle,’ filled with nothing but news about COVID-19 and the mental fatigue people were enduring during lockdown.

Later that summer was the first-time things started to look normal again. I drove a car for the first time since I had been sick. It felt liberating to visit Pelham Bay Park. I got my license just as the case counts started rising again. The fall was another struggle. My depression and PTSD went into high gear. I was hearing too many stories about death and despair. I could barely go on without my daily dose of Zoloft. I was having bad dreams and anxiety attacks every night.

When New Year’s Eve finally came around, I could only think about the hundreds of thousands of people enduring the first-year anniversary of a loved one’s death. By January, on every day of the month, we were up to the same number of deaths as 9/11. I hope we can overcome this dreadful experience later this year. New infections are going down, and I can only dream of wearing my glasses without them fogging up because of my face mask or being able to dine indoors without having a heater over my head. These are some of the things I yearn to have back in my life after taking them for granted.”

Ankit Sharma, Junior, Economics:

“I was looking forward to 2020. After a rough 2019, I was ready for a fresh start. But in March, things took a turn for the worse. School closed and we were supposed to put ourselves in quarantine. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that the entire world was going through the same thing. Feelings of panic and the unknown were constant. My anxiety was at an all-time high but there was nothing we could do besides stay indoors and wait.

The news was on in my house 24/7. Cases continued to spread, and things only got worse. Staying indoors for many months had a huge impact on my mental health as well as my family. Being that I live with my grandparents, I had to take extra precaution and do everything I could to remain safe and sane. I never expected to spend my 21st birthday in quarantine and it is something that I will never forget.

As the pandemic continues a year later, it's something I never thought I would experience. Through all the ups and downs I have learned that we should never take life for granted because you never know what can happen tomorrow. It has made me cherish spending time with my family and really living every day to the fullest.”

Jordan Duncan, Senior, Journalism:

“For me, the first few months of quarantine featured a whole lotta Doordash, booze, and Netflix binging. No shame in admitting that, as I think we all grappled with those vices to a degree, but it definitely got real old, real quick. Numbing your experience doesn’t work for long, and it certainly never works in your favor.

The gravity of coronavirus didn’t hit me for quite some time. It almost didn’t seem real. A year into it, we’re now accustomed to the normalcy of face masks, social distancing, and we are scarily numb to the staggering statistics of those affected by coronavirus. It’s a little remarkable to witness how quickly humans can adjust when there’s no other option.

As an Army Brat, for me change is normal. I’m used to the ebb and flow of life, my comfort zone lies within it, but the change that COVID-19 brought was wildly unforeseen. I came to terms with the fact that I had to navigate a new “normal,” whatever that is. I realized that all of the things I once said I didn’t have time for, I now had all the time in the world for. What do you do with all that time? I knew wasting it wasn’t the answer. When the whole world seems to turn upside down, finding an avenue of relief in which you can maintain some sort of control is your saving grace.

The road through 2020 was not an especially smooth one, but I do think it was a necessary one. If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from this year, it’s that perspective truly is everything. Mindset is key. Choosing positivity, when it’s terribly easy to dwell in the negative, will free you in more ways than you can imagine. If you can find it in you to seek out the light in this darkness, to figure out a way to see the glass as half full rather than half empty, then the days miraculously become a little easier, even in the slightest margin. Holding onto that outlook is what’s kept me going. Nothing is certain. Perhaps COVID is here to stay. Perhaps it’ll be a distant memory soon. Either way, to hell with worrying. When has that ever served us anyway? Own your new normal, whatever that may be.”

Evan MacDuff, Sophomore, Business Administration:

“It was a cold rainy day in Los Angeles, California, where two of my friends and I sat in terror and confusion. We were in our hotel room near Santa Monica Beach when we heard the news that airports were going to shut down soon, due to some oncoming pandemic. Three broke college students had to cut their spring break short and buy the quickest tickets home. After an overnight layover and some panic, we got back safely. This is how I was introduced to COVID-19.

On returning to New York, I was introduced to masks and the new lifestyle that went along with them. I was quarantined indoors until the semester ended, when I started going to basketball courts with friends to play pickup. Town officials took down the hoops and said they weren't going back up until the pandemic was over. I returned to my indoor lifestyle of TV, video games, and sleeping. The only good thing that resulted from COVID was my being able to work more hours during the summer and make more money.

Three weeks ago, before work, I didn’t feel well. I thought it was the flu, but I went to get tested, to be safe. It was COVID. It was awkward. I didn't know anyone who had it or where it had come from. Luckily, I had mild symptoms, mostly headaches, and did not pass the virus to anyone I was in contact with. I feel bad for the students who are missing their proms, their senior nights, their graduations. I'm in the middle of my college experience. I hope I don't miss my graduation.”

Emily Groom, Junior, Psychology:

“I’ll admit, this year in quarantine was not as bad as I expected. I am a typical introvert whose life didn’t change that much with the introduction of social distancing. Possibly my favorite part was the transition to online learning. I live 49 miles from campus, just under the 50-mile limit for commuting students. This means that my daily commute was just over an hour if you consider the morning rush near exit seven.

I also really like the structure of online classes. As an introvert I am notably shy and am often uncomfortable in classrooms that require participation. I am much more comfortable emailing or meeting with a professor one on one to ask a question, as opposed to speaking in front of the whole class. Online assignments give us the opportunity to explain our thoughts in a way that isn’t stressful or forced.

Possibly the most inconvenient part about the pandemic for me, other than wearing masks, was the closure of my summer job. I used to work at Six Flags the Great Escape, north of Glens Falls. I have been working summers there since I was 14 and have been promoted enough times to be a senior supervisor.

The park was shut down by the pandemic, so I had to find employment elsewhere. I ended up applying to a Stewart's shop near my house. At first, I felt like I was starting all over again, and I didn’t like not knowing the answer to everything. I had to step out of the supervisor mindset.

Forced to relinquish control, I had to let others come to my rescue. After a few weeks, I started to enjoy not being in charge. If I didn’t know the answer to a question, I could just ask someone else, and I started making friends along the way. This new job fits my schedule perfectly, and the hours are flexible enough that I can focus on school and make extra money. While I would never wish for something like a pandemic, I feel as though I was able to make the best of it and come out on the other end stronger.”

Student stories were provided by journalism students in AJRL 100 and AJRL 230. The work was edited for publication by Max Blumenfrucht, Trevor Dugan, James Gillanders, Shianne Henion, and Tom Ng.


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