A month in quarantine


Having managed to evade the clutches of coronavirus for almost an entire year, the student house where I live was last month forced to face up to the truth of the virus. On February 1st the first case of infection was reported at our house. On February 28th everyone was allowed back out of quarantine. Eight of the thirteen housemates had been infected. At the moment, I'm happy to say, everyone is doing well. For a whole month, almost continuously, I was confined, in solitude, to my room. In this period I probably learned more about people than I ever had before.

In the first week of February, coronavirus entered our house, arriving via two different sources. As soon as this was known all the housemates sat down together to discuss the situation. On Microsoft Teams, of course. The housemates in my student house are a very close-knit group; we were determined to make the best of it and to support each other wherever possible. We agreed that everyone would go into quarantine in his or her room so that contact moments could be reduced. We hoped this would shorten the period of time that coronavirus was in our house.

Some housemates found the prospect of spending the entire day confined to their room very difficult to cope with and escaped to the lounge. Our house has a large lounge that everyone uses liberally and during the corona pandemic, which is challenging enough in itself, it has a been somewhere we've found a lot of support and had a lot of fun. I found this difficult to understand, I was convinced that now more than ever we really had to do our best to reduce our contact moments.

We made grocery lists and friends went to the store for us. One of the housemates would cook an evening meal and deliver the plates to our doors. The corona patients used one toilet and shower, the non-corona patients used the other. We also agreed to wear face masks outside our own rooms, to always disinfect our hands properly and to air the house. In spite of all this, we had eight infected people in our house, myself among them.

After spending a number of days in quarantine some housemates found themselves climbing the walls. Despite our plans, some housemates needed some respite and to sit in the lounge, at 1m50. This triggered two reactions. The first reaction was that some housemates did not understand this; a schism appeared in the house. The second reaction was that now that one sheep had leapt over the ditch, the rest followed. People are not going to deliberately surrender their freedoms while others are enjoying theirs, which in retrospect is completely understandable.

But at the time I did not understand it. I found it difficult that my gut feeling was telling me that some housemates were making less of an effort than those who had toed the line and stayed in their rooms. Personally, I wasn't finding it a trial to stay put. I was having regular online meetings, was speaking to a lot of friends, and I had plenty of work to do for uni. I wanted to understand why some people found the agreements so difficult to keep, because as housemates we would normally do anything for each other.

After I had talked with the housemates who were finding the new house rules hard to stomach, I understood their need for more freedoms at once. In our student house, where we are always so close with one another, some housemates were feeling lonely, that their liberty had been taken away, extreme boredom, despondency, sadness and lack of understanding. They felt they weren't being understood by the other housemates, just as I couldn't understand them, and this division was only creating yet more feelings of being misunderstood and loneliness.

This was when I realized that we were dealing with a group of thirteen housemates, as well as with thirteen individuals, each with his or her own personality and resilience. For some, this long period of quarantine was not sustainable. I was of the opinion that we had to demonstrate our support for each other and believed that those who were struggling the most with the situation should be allowed, after all, to sit in the lounge or eat together, in a responsible manner. Keeping the 1m50 distance, of course, and only if they really couldn't manage to stay confined to their room. In addition to this, we needed to keep on discussing this, keep on supporting each other, and where necessary adapting the situation, just as long as it was safe and responsible enough.

The ironic thing about this whole story is that the people who spent the most time confined to their rooms all caught the virus.

The lessons I have learned from this situation can be summarized as follows:

  1. Liberty is one of the most precious things there is.
  2. You cannot agree measures in advance that will work for everyone in a group, you will always be dealing with individuals and foreseen needs.
  3. Divisions in a group exacerbate a situation, ultimately you can't avoid having to seek reconciliation if you are to make headway. In this process, support, strength and love will save the day.
  4. Do not underestimate coronavirus. Fitting-fight 20 to 28 year-olds have all been thoroughly ill and the road to recovery is long.

Hold on just a little while longer, my dear fellow students. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

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