As the Rome students returned home last week, they were greeted with concern about their exposure to the COVID-19 virus. One student’s grandparents warned her parents not to hug the student upon her arrival, while another found a space in the basement, sanctioned with hanging sheets, prepared for her quarantine. Parish priests called parents, asking for their students not to come to Mass.
The reaction of parents has not been uniform. While some students cannot leave their homes, others are going about their activities unperturbed. This is in part due to the lack of authoritative measures from the University of Dallas Rome program.
The day after the decision to terminate the semester was announced, Dean and Director of the Rome Program Dr. Peter Hatile asked returning Rome students to not visit the Irving campus for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus, and to “self-isolate.”
The language of self-isolation may have prompted an initial overreaction. According to the Center for Disease control, self-isolation means “the separation of a person or group of people known or reasonably believed to be infected with a communicable disease and potentially infectious from those who are not infected to prevent spread of the communicable disease.” Those in self-isolation ought to be treated as though they have the disease, according to the CDC definition.
Clarification on what the Rome program meant by “self-isolation” came four days later, when most students were already home. It recommended self-isolation “not necessarily… in the strictest sense of the term,” suggesting vigorous hand washing, distancing from the elderly and immunocompromised and greeting others with an ankle tap rather than a handshake.
Nonetheless, many UD students find themselves under a strict quarantine.
“I have a nice little sleeping area set up in the basement so I’m away from the rest of the family,” said sophomore Josie Muncy. “I can’t leave the house, but I don’t have to stay in the basement all the time as long as I stay 6 feet away from my other family members. I’m not allowed to cook, do dishes, or anything like that. And I have to take my temperature twice a day, in the morning and in the evening.”
Although Muncy’s parents, a consultant and an Etsy artist, do not work with the elderly, they decided to quarantine her as “a precautionary measure,” said Muncy. Muncy has shown no symptoms of the coronavirus.
Sophomore Katie Jennings has family members who work with the elderly, prompting an even more severe quarantine than Muncy will undergo.
Secluded in a small apartment, Jennings will not have any contact with her family for the full two week isolation period. Food appears outside for her to retrieve. On her birthday on Sunday, her family sang outside her window and slipped notes under the door.
“My quarantine has been fine,” said Jennings. She has been sleeping and getting ahead on schoolwork, which formally resumed Monday.
Some students, including Muncy, will watch Mass online this Sunday, to avoid chances of spreading the virus to their parish.
“It doesn’t seem like anyone can bring me communion,” said Muncy.
Before sophomore Josh Berkovsky arrived home, his mom received a call from their parish priest, asking her son not to attend Mass.
Father TJ Dolce and Father Johnathan Moré from St. Martha’s Catholic Church in Kingwood, Texas, as well as Father Felix Osasona of St. Mary Magdalene in Humble, Texas, all asked returning UD students not to attend Mass.
“He said we should stay home and not get anyone sick,” said Berkovsky.
Berkovsky is staying at home, entertaining himself with a Nintendo Switch he bought last week with money he was planning on using in Rome.
Sophomores Stefi and Ale Taliente, who are parishioners at St. Martha’s, are following their priest’s advice not to attend Mass. Their mother, who is an extraordinary Eucharistic minister, will bring communion to the Talientes, Berkovsky and Carlos Gomez, all of whom live in the same area.
“Although we probably don’t have [the virus], there’s a very small chance that we do and we don’t want to risk us giving it to the elderly or people with weak immune systems,” said Stefi Taliente.
Ale Taliente suggested that the measures might be too extreme.
“I just think that Americans think that the virus is deadly or like dangerous, they don’t know the real story about it,” she said.
“I understand that their families are also trying to protect themselves and the people around them with this, but personally, I think it might be an overreaction,” said Junior and bBiology major Natalie Villafranca. “Considering that we were in Lazio, where 1% of the cases in Italy are, it’s very unlikely that any of us contracted the virus.
“I think that we’re very low risk… but I’d like to add that if one of us has COVID-19, most of us probably contracted it as well,” said Natalie. “Unfortunately we won’t know for another 10 days.”
Medical staff in Round Rock, Texas, took every precaution when sophomore Libby Regnerus went to a clinic there with flu-like symptoms after returning from Rome.
Regnerus began feeling ill the day after she returned from Rome, and went to a clinic to be tested for the flu and strep throat. The doctor, concerned that she had the coronavirus, did not enter the room, instead slipping a note under the door to notify her that the tests were negative. The doctor spent the next 45 minutes trying to reach other medical staff on the phone, and finally returned into the room wearing a mask and goggles.
The doctor told Regnerus that tests are only available for those who are seriously ill. He recommended staying home, and seeking further help if her symptoms worsened.
Regnerus’ symptoms began to dissipate in 24 hours after the appointment. She never ran a fever, a hallmark of the virus. Regardless, University of Texas asked her father not to come to work in light of his possible exposure to the virus.
Sophomore Emily Najvar’s family was initially not concerned about the spread of the virus. She went shopping and her family attended a baseball game, although she stayed in the car, shortly after arriving home from Rome.
At the game, however, a family friend asked Najvar’s father not to hug her. She was concerned about the spread of the virus to her mother, who has a respiratory condition and is elderly. This event caused Najvar’s father to enforce the 14-day quarantine on the whole family. He will ask his coworkers if they are comfortable with him coming into work, and if they are not, he will work from home for the rest of the quarantine period.
Najvar, who was not initially concerned about the virus, has taken on a new understanding for the quarantine.
“I don’t want to be the cause of someone’s death,” she said.