Priya Ganji/Daily

Jan. 14, 2022. Today marks my first day out of COVID-19 quarantine. After narrowly avoiding infection for the first two years of the pandemic, on day three of 2022, I received a positive test. Here is the journal I kept, albeit edited and polished, for those eight days of quarantine. 

Day One: An Inkling

I wake up in the dreary early-winter morning light with a stuffy nose. Upon texting the group chat I share with my roommates, I am not so sure I can write this off as a side effect of the cold weather. They try to quell my nerves of having the virus, but I can’t shake the thought. I never wake up congested, despite the old heater that thrusts dusty air into my bedroom each night. In my scramble to find an available test appointment, I have to wait until tomorrow to get a PCR test within 50 miles. Just two days before the school year starts and I have symptoms that could imply a COVID-19 infection. I cannot deny the very real possibility of having caught it on my flight home from winter break, nor can I deny that I let my guard down after receiving my first two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. 

Day Two: Acceptance

Unsure of whether to wear a mask indoors yet, I run into both of my roommates in the kitchen this morning, barefaced. They aren’t concerned that I might have COVID-19. This can be attributed to both the inevitability of getting omicron as classes remain in person, and also the murky-yet-pervasive notion that COVID-19 doesn’t feel real until you’re affected directly. None of us have had the virus yet, so I assume the latter. We’ve talked about the possibility of quarantining together if we are all infected at the same time. This would make isolation kind of fun — we’d bake pies, we’d watch movies, we’d play board games. Since we’ve all had our booster vaccines, we’d likely only be sick for a couple of days. The rest of our quarantine could be spent hanging out with each other. 

After trudging to University Health Services for my 11:30 a.m. PCR test, I stand in a line of 11 people for a short five minutes. Though we loiter in a hallway labeled with stickers placed six-feet apart on the carpeted floor, there are too many eager patients to maintain the proper distance. Everyone around me bears unhopeful symptoms: sniffling, coughing, anxiously awaiting the inevitable little three-syllable diagnosis. Neg-a-tive. Or, pos-i-tive. Pick your fate. 

At last, I am ushered into a room where a concerningly cheerful doctor jams the swab into the inner cavities of my brain. 

At 2:30 p.m. the fateful email lands in my inbox. I’d been tested countless times before: Upon receiving the email with my results, I enter my name and birthday into LynxDx before reading “negative” on the screen. The sound of those three syllables is a symphony, the loveliest sound that has ever existed. 

Every time before this, I had crossed my fingers on the off chance that I was positive — there is no hope left this time. After typing my details into my phone, the website buffers, mandating my patience. For a split second I wonder if it is possible that they mixed up the result. In the next moment, I read the word “DETECTED” in red. Earlier in the pandemic I would be weeping at this news, yet here I am, unbothered and unsurprised.

I make the hurried calls to my roommates who are slightly stunned by both the news and my nonchalance. In the conversations we shared returning from winter break, I was under the impression that none of us cared about being infected with COVID-19. We’d had a collective thought that omicron would be inevitable in the coming semester, and it seemed like a waste of time to try and prevent the unavoidable. But now, when COVID-19 is tangible within our microcosm, when it has penetrated our so-called bubble, my roommates treat my infection just as everyone had treated the virus in the beginning: like a plague. 

Day Three: Egotism

The beauty of omicron is that it has eased the tension of coming out publicly about a COVID-19 diagnosis. And that is precisely what I’m doing today. This late in the pandemic, when plenty of my friends had or currently have omicron, I’ve deemed it socially acceptable to joke about being stuck in my room for the next seven days, crafting a post on Instagram to commemorate my misery. The chance of serious illness is minor after receiving my booster vaccine in December 2021, and the worst storm I’ll have to weather is the prospect of complete social isolation. However, I’m making do with the little dopamine pulses coursing through me when I refresh Instagram to see the incoming likes. 

Day Four: In Limbo

Not quite as hopeful as I was yesterday, the loneliness is setting in with a sinking certainty. I will be stuck in this gray, under-decorated bedroom for six more days. The only natural light comes from a small nook that extends into a corner, leaving most of me and my bed in the dismal overcast of my vaulted, unlit ceiling. I’d failed to put posters and plants around the room to make it homely. After moving into this room last August, I hadn’t spent enough time or thought on my walls to embellish them with art. 

My vaccination had meant that the pandemic was nearing an end. Or so I thought. All of fall semester was spent on campus, far from the learning-from-home scenario that plagued our last academic year. Now I am cursing myself for my failure of forethought. If only I could have predicted that after two years and three shots I’d be isolating in this barren bedroom. Sadly, my roommates and I have determined that neither of them caught COVID-19 from me, so we won’t be quarantining together. I’ll be holed up alone in the same dim window light for the rest of my isolation period.

Day Five: Losing All Hope

Just when I thought I reached a glorious high two days ago, I have hit a new low. This is only my fourth day confined to my gray bedroom and my vision has begun to blur. Staring at my computer, staring at my phone, staring at my book, staring at my journal, staring at the Nintendo 3DS that my friend dropped off — all has caused my eyes to glass over with an unfocused haze. This is it. My life as I know it. I am stuck lying in bed overwhelmed with hopelessness and helplessness. 

Usually, when I’m down, I can escape to somewhere interesting: maybe I find a new park I’ve never been to, or I browse the bookshelves in the basement of Literati, or even go for a run at the CCRB. There’s no way out of this mess. Condemned to the same surroundings for more than a week, at my own fault, I feel the full weight of the omicron variant. Maybe if I felt sicker it would make sense to lie in bed for days on end. I must do so to keep my classmates, professors and community safe. But with only a runny nose to nurse, it’s difficult to remain in the same place with nothing to do.

Day Six: Should I Stay or Should I Go

My roommates and I had the talk about me finally leaving my hobbit hole. They feel comfortable with me frequenting our common living spaces adorned in an N95 mask. This would be a strict violation of the quarantine rules outlined to me in a UHS email, which stated I should only be around other people if we are all wearing N95 or KN95 masks. My roommates, understandably, want to be unmasked in the common spaces after confirming that neither of them caught COVID-19 from me. 

I’m stuck in a limbo. I still feel uncomfortable loitering around them, so for now, I’ll continue to fully form my depression. Lying here in bed, letting the time pass in a blur, I sink deeper into an apathy of having nothing to do and nowhere to go. My seasonal depression is always the worst this time of winter, and the addition of quarantine decays my mental state even more than not seeing sunshine. Days seven, eight, nine and ten pass like gunmetal-gray clouds in the bleak January sky.

Day Eleven: Re-entering Society

Free at last. My roommates have agreed to let me share their air in the living room and kitchen. I can now eat meals with them, watch movies, even go to the bathroom without a mask on. Yet my tendency this morning is to remain in my bed for three hours — something I’ve fallen into the habit of doing in the ten days prior. After being overcome with an inescapable apathy, I wonder when I’ll feel truly free again. Though the COVID-19 has left my body, its tormenting mental strings still tug on my thoughts. But I’m virus-free, able to enter the world again, and ready for the coming semester. 

Here I am on the precipice of graduation, beginning the first classes of my last semester with a virus that, two years prior, ruined life as we know it. Despite this sadness lingering from my quarantine, I look forward to the next four months of my life as a liberated, post-COVID-19 college student.

Statement Columnist Martha Starkel can be reached at