It’s been nearly two months since Elliana Bertrand tested positive for COVID-19, and she still doesn’t have her sense of taste or smell back. (A reported effect of contracting COVID-19, the symptom can last four to six weeks, according to Penn Medicine). On the Baylor University freshman’s TikTok, Bertrand, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 31, posts short videos to prove how numb she is to flavor — she eats the insides of a tea bag, a mushroom wellness shot, oranges with hummus, a raw artichoke, vinegar, and more. And all with a straight face. Nothing fazes her.
Bertrand and her doctors believe she contracted COVID-19 during an off-campus church service. Bertrand declined to say what church she attended, but when she attended the church service Aug. 23, masks were not required and social distancing was not enforced, she says. About 100 students attended the service, and while Bertrand says she wore a mask, most others didn’t. She showed her first symptoms (sore throat, congestion and fatigue) on Aug. 28 and then tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 31. Immediately, Baylor Health Center’s staff instructed her to quarantine in a nearby hotel until she got better.
“I remember I was walking to my car in the parking lot that day and by the time I got to my car, I was so out of breath and winded and felt like I needed to lie down just from walking to my car,” Bertrand says. “I’m young and I’m athletic and that’s just not normal at all.”
During the 10 days Bertrand was isolated, she managed school work virtually, but when the virus was at its worst, she told her professors she couldn’t keep up.
“For about six days, it was just really awful,” she says.
Through her campus meal plan, Baylor provided meals to Bertrand while she was in quarantine. All three meals for the day were delivered every morning at 11 a.m., but oftentimes the food wouldn’t make it to her room until 12:30 or 1 p.m. In one of Bertrand’s TikToks, she shows a sandwich so stale it makes a noise when she hits it against a table. She isn’t sure if the food tasted good or not, considering she lost her sense of taste, so she ordered her own groceries to be delivered to her hotel room.
According to Baylor’s COVID-19 policy, students who don’t have a meal plan are required to pay for their own food to be delivered while in quarantine and parents and relatives are not allowed to stay with their children.
Overall, Bertrand says, she is thankful for the way the university is handling the pandemic. But it’s a lonely 10 days for students quarantining, and Bertrand’s experience isn’t far off from what other college students in America are experiencing. Videos across TikTok show college students alone in rooms with few sheets and amenities. A NYU student posted a TikTok showing a meal she got delivered from the university, which included an unripe orange, two and a half chips, and a watermelon salad.
Bertrand says she’s an “independent” person, but for any first-year college student, being isolated with a deadly virus would be scary.
“The three of four worst days that I had it, right in the middle of the isolation period, I was worried that I was even going to be able to take care of myself because I just felt so weak and I couldn’t even get off the couch, especially at night,” she says. “I remember I would call my parents two to three times a day.”
During her 10-day stay, she says no nurses or doctors came by to check on her. If she was feeling bad enough, she called Baylor’s Health Center and they advised her to go in to be checked out. As of Monday, Oct. 12, Baylor had 89 active cases of COVID-19.
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Students across the nation contemplated taking a gap year in 2020 to save money, considering most college campuses would have online classes. SimpsonScarborough released a survey in August that said 40 percent of incoming college freshmen were considering taking a gap year. Bertrand doesn’t regret enrolling at Baylor during a pandemic; she does, however, regret going to that church service without masks.
Grace Elander, a freshman at Baylor, also documented her Baylor quarantine experience on TikTok. She says she had to quarantine because her roommate got COVID-19, but after a few lonely days in isolation, Elander traveled back home to Minnesota to quarantine with her family. Once there, she got the virus (she suspects from her college roommate) and then returned to campus and classes on Oct. 1. She says the virus left lingering side effects, like fatigue, and her sense of smell still isn’t completely back. She says she wishes she would have saved her money and taken a gap year.
“I love Baylor," she says. "I think they’re doing the best they can, but it would have been nice to save some money and save a year of my life.”