As I sit at my laptop after seven days of isolating, it has been two years since the outbreak of Covid-19. First declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on 11 March 2020, COVID-19 had already reached the UK by the end of January and ever since has been spreading across the country like wildfire.
Even before the highly contagious Omicron new variant, COVID-19 has caused society-wide restrictions, multiple lockdowns, and an ever-increasing death toll internationally. But looking two years on, and with this being my first personal case of Covid-19, how has the isolation experience changed?
My isolation experience was full of ups and downs. As someone who is fully vaccinated and tests regularly, receiving the result that I was Covid positive was devastating. Questions like ‘how am I going to get back to university?’, ‘how can I keep my family safe?’ and ‘why didn’t I bring my DS back home?’ overwhelmed me. Luckily, however, I tested negative on my sixth and seventh isolation days, meaning I was able to come out of isolation and spend a few brief days with my family before coming back to university.
My isolation period was characterised by crying to ‘Tick Tick Boom’, browsing TikTok and learning the lyrics to my favourite musicals, all of which I do regardless of my COVID-19 status. But despite that, my positive COVID-19 result impacted my studies, essay deadlines, and overall mental health.
This rhetoric has been prevalent for students ever since the UK’s first outbreak of COVID-19, but what else about the isolation process has remained the same?
When speaking to international student Lex Hoffmann, the sometimes-overwhelming loneliness of isolation remains just as severe now as it was two years ago. Describing his first isolation period in the UK at the start of his first year, Lex told me that: ‘instead of getting to know the city and the people, I sat alone in a room for a long time’. To make his experience worse, Lex himself did not actually have Covid-19, but due to government guidelines for international travel at the time was required to isolate.
The anger at having to isolate despite being Covid negative is something I relate to. Having to isolate towards the end of summer term as a result of a Covid positive flatmate was infuriating. Luckily for me, the government was trialing the Daily Contact Testing which I elected to be a part of, meaning that if an individual were to test negative each day, they would maintain their freedoms for 24 hours. Unfortunately, this is no longer in place, but thanks to the rise of testing in schools and other places of education, students are now more accurately aware of their Covid status.
Lex also discussed the impact of isolating alone on his mental health, telling me that ‘the biggest thing for me was the loneliness and building up anxiety’ surrounding having to stay isolated indoors before the start of his undergraduate degree. This sense of anxiety can then be worsened by students who have tested positive having to isolate in student halls, with the struggle of not spreading the virus to your flatmates whilst using shared facilities sometimes greatly impacting your mental health, worsening the already lonely isolation period.
Similarly, despite not being an international student, I now somewhat relate to the experience of having to isolate alone. Whilst I’m so grateful that my family remained negative and were able to go back to work and school, having to stay in my room and missing out on family time was probably the most difficult part of my isolation period. Apart from Zoom calls with friends, I didn’t really have a proper conversation until I tested negative.
However, isolating at home has definitely been much easier for me personally than isolating at university in some key aspects. When speaking to LGBTQ+ Officer Matt Rogan, the financial struggles that can come with having to isolate at university were brought to light. A possibly relatable experience to students who isolated at university, Matt recalled his experiences of having to ‘rely on takeaway for the first four days of his isolation period, something that they describe as ‘not exactly sustainable’ for students surviving on a minimum maintenance loan.
Luckily, this wasn’t the reality that I faced having to isolate at home, but I did strongly relate to Matt’s experience when they began to describe their Covid symptoms. Highlighting the health impacts of Covid-19, Matt discussed how they ‘struggled to get out of bed or even wake up properly’ whilst he suffered from Covid, a symptom that I myself had also. Symptoms like this make it understandable as to why a positive Covid-19 result can heavily impact academic learning and teaching for many students and staff respectively, making it vital that we are as understanding as possible towards those who are suffering from the virus.
When speaking to friends about their Covid isolation experience, however, I was able to find some positives. Second-year student Beth Slattery described how even though having to isolate from the virus was incredibly daunting, it also had many positive impacts on her relationship with their flatmates. Beth stated that it ‘definitely brought us closer as a flat’ having to isolate during her first term at university, with positives such as celebrating Beth’s birthday during isolation occurring as a result of their newly formed bonds.
But after listing all those negatives and positives, how similar to isolating in 2020 is isolating now?
As of Monday January 17, the isolation period is being reduced to five days instead of seven if the individual tests negative twice in 24 hours, a luxury students did not have two years ago. Similarly, now that more people are double if not triple vaccinated, the form of Covid caught by those testing positive is much less aggressive, theoretically meaning most people are able to come out of isolation after their ten days.
Regardless of the changes, it is vital that students remain safe, test regularly and make sure to get boosted to ensure a safe term back at university.