As fresher’s week came to an end and the work started, I saw many of my friends end up in isolation. At the time, I thought “Wow, that’s rough. But it could never be me. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I had to stay inside for two weeks.” Fast forward 2 weeks, and now I find myself in isolation, not only from other households, but from my own also.
Testing positive was quite a surreal experience. From my self-denial that my sickness was caused by Covid-19, to the awkward trip to the test centre, and finally to the email I received late on Saturday night, that I had, in fact, caught coronavirus.
The adjustment was hard. As someone who likes to be very social, being unable to leave my room has been very difficult. This has been accentuated by hearing my Covid-free housemates playing games, watching films and having a thoroughly good time whilst I am resigned to scouring through Netflix for a new show to stimulate my interest. Worst of all, opening my door to see my housemates scurry away from me like we’re playing a game of tag, left me feeling like a social pariah.
The positives to being isolated
However, being in isolation has its benefits. For those who don’t have to stay in their rooms, it has meant people have gotten to know their households more (some have tried out ‘corridor cricket’[SC1] ). Out of the 15 isolated students I have surveyed, only 28.6% said they haven’t gotten to know their households better. One individual has enjoyed not having to cook and being able to have more time to play their guitar, both things I have also benefited from. An added bonus is that you don’t have to get up as early or spend time travelling. Personally, I have needed the extra time sat in my room, using it to catch up with work that I missed when I was ill, and it means I don’t have to rush my work as I was when I was trying to fit it in between social engagements (it should probably be the other way round).
The difficulties of being isolated
Whilst isolation has it benefits, it can be an overwhelming challenge for many of us. Half of the respondents to the survey said that their enthusiasm to work has been largely reduced by being isolated. One respondent has even had to stop work for 5 days due to being so overwhelmed. The monotonous nature of being isolated can make it difficult to focus, possibly reducing productivity.
Also, for some, going for walks is therapeutic and supports their mental wellbeing, and most colleges do not afford isolating the students the ability to go outside. This also has effects on physical wellbeing, as physical activity is vastly reduced, particularly when you stay in your room. For example, I went from 10,000+ steps a day to less than 600.
Isolation also takes its toll socially. Coming to a new place is hard enough but being stuck inside and unable to meet people or develop burgeoning friendships can leave you feeling like an outcast. Exemplary of this, around half of the students in the survey said that their enthusiasm towards socialising has been reduced. This is even worse when you are ill, because you feel terrible both mentally and physically. Also, many of us do not have strong support systems (if any at all) in place at Oxford, and not everyone’s family can or will travel to provide them with supplies. So, if you know people in isolation, check up on them regularly, and ask if they could use your help. Even waving at someone’s window can be a big help.
What can colleges do to make isolating better?
Whilst many colleges are working hard, there are still improvements to be made. As suggested by one individual, colleges should make arrangements so that those isolating can safely go outside, even if it is only for a short period. Furthermore, colleges could provide better support when it comes to food, with some students paying ridiculous prices, almost as if being punished for having Covid-19.
Also, welfare and events representatives could work to assist those who are isolating, whether that be regarding financial or mental support, or even just something on zoom to engage people. This is in no way a slight at them, they work very hard and are students too!
All in all, these are not ideal circumstances. Having to isolate, miss events or even just missing friends who are in isolation. But this is a time where we need to assist one another, and we can get through it. And with the news of a national lockdown coming recently too, the support of those around us will be even more important.