Irvington residents will be required to quarantine beginning at 9 p.m. on Feb 19. Collegian file photo.
Updated at 11:50 p.m. on Feb. 23.
ANNIE FAULKNER | ASST. NEWS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
The past year has been full of unexpected interruptions due to COVID-19, and this weekend at Butler was no exception. First-year students living in Irvington House experienced a new frontier of pandemic uncertainty: for the first time, a full on-campus residence hall was quarantined due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases.
At 8:07 p.m. on Feb. 19, Butler students received an email stating that Irvington House would be put in a mandatory quarantine at 9:00 p.m. This announcement, according to the university, came as the result of six Irvington residents testing positive for COVID-19.
Butler residence assistants received a confidential email detailing information about the lockdown at around 6:40 p.m., about an hour and a half before the rest of campus.
Kaitlyn Thornton, a junior psychology and Spanish double major, is an RA for Irvington House. She said that the initial news about the lockdown was stressful for her residents.
“I think more than anything [my residents] are just frantic, the information really just came out about 30 minutes before the lockdown was supposed to start,” Thornton said on Friday night. “I think they’re just overwhelmed.”
For many students living in Irvington, the situation was worrying, as rumors quickly circulated around campus.
One first-year resident of Irvington, who preferred to remain anonymous, said on Friday night that the past few hours had been stressful. She said she initially found out about the lockdown through a Greek life group chat.
The student’s RA set up a Zoom meeting with her unit in Irvington where residents were able to ask questions, which she said was helpful. However, she expressed frustration that she heard about the lockdown through rumor rather than from the university.
“It was really frustrating to find out through a group chat, because there weren’t clear answers and there was a lot of speculation that floated out there like ‘oh, we’re going to be in quarantine for two weeks,’” the student said. “[That] was very difficult for me, because I just got out of a six-day quarantine [in Ross Hall].”
All Irvington residents were told they would be receiving mandatory COVID-19 tests beginning at 9 a.m. on Feb. 20, and that all residents would be required to remain in quarantine until receiving a negative PCR test. These tests were free to all students, and provided in partnership with the Marion County Health Department.
“We apologize for the short notice of testing and quarantine heading into the weekend, but we know from experience that the virus can spread very quickly and oftentimes requires swift action,” the university’s initial email read.
Residents of the first-year dormitory were not allowed to leave campus, and, if they had already left, were asked to return immediately to partake in the mandatory testing on Saturday morning.
Up until the announcement of the quarantine, Marion County had been averaging 119 new cases per day for the preceding week, with 120 new cases on Feb. 18. The positivity rate in the county was 4.1% for the week leading up to the Irvington cluster.
On the morning of Feb. 20, all Irvington students were given both a rapid test and a PCR test, which were administered between around 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. according to each student’s room number. The tests were administered in the lounge area of each floor, with residents of Irvington’s first floor being tested in the Irvington Community Room.
Thornton said the testing process was fairly smooth, except for the fact that the testing officials did not arrive until around 9:15 a.m. or 9:20 a.m., a bit later than the testing was expected to begin.
Students who tested positive on the rapid test were notified immediately and sent to quarantine either at home or in Ross Hall. Students who did not test positive were not notified of their results, and they were not available to students through the normal portal on myhealth.butler.edu.
Until the quarantine was lifted, every resident of the 647-bed building received meals delivered by Butler Dining — outside meal delivery was not permitted.
One aspect of the lockdown that attracted particular attention was the food provided to those living in the building.
On Saturday morning, Irvington residents received bags full of snack foods such as Cheez-Its, clementines and candy bars. Thornton said that many of her residents were confused because they were expecting to receive breakfast, but that people who did not have a lot of food stored in their room ended up being grateful for the extra snacks as the weekend progressed.
“People who have allergies or dietary restrictions got like a bag of things that they can eat, so they did accommodate for that,” Thornton said.
For lunch, students received a family-style meal for their pod that included a loaf of bread as well as individually-wrapped slices of deli meats and cheeses. More snack foods, such as fruits and chips, were included in this meal.
However, for students with dietary restrictions, this process looked different. Shannon Lewand, a first-year early childhood education major, has food allergies. She said that residents with food allergies were given the option to order off the Atherton lunch menu, but that the meals for dietary-restricted students did not arrive until 2:00 p.m. or, in some cases, even later.
“They have a lot of issues with it because there were a lot more people with allergies than they were expecting,” Lewand said.
Thornton, who also has dietary restrictions, did not receive her lunch until 3:30. However, she described dinner on Saturday night as “pretty smooth.” Students without dietary restrictions were given macaroni and cheese and pulled pork with side dishes. Later that night, students were provided Dominos pizza for a late-night meal.
Lewand said the situation was stressful, but that she and her roommate took the lockdown as an opportunity to take a break.
“I was very thankful to be with a roommate who I enjoyed the company of,” Lewand said. “But we watched a lot of movies on Saturday. We just kind of like, just took a break, like we didn’t do any schoolwork or anything, just like relaxed, which was actually really nice.”
At 6:40 p.m. on the evening of Sunday, Feb. 21, Butler students received an email announcing that Irvington’s quarantine would be released at 7 p.m. that evening. The only exceptions to this were students who tested positive and their close contacts.
The university’s email stated that four more students tested positive during the lockdown.
“We apologize for the short notice of testing and quarantine heading into the weekend and any related disruptions. We appreciate your cooperation and thank you for your understanding,” the email said.
Lewand said that it was exciting to receive the news that the quarantine was lifted.
“It’s definitely a good story to have…” Lewand said. “[It] is a good thing that the university did it, obviously, because we want to know that they’re taking COVID seriously and they care about our health, but it also just felt like a lot of stress for us… I mean, it was the first time for everyone. It was a new experience, and [it] was definitely an interesting weekend.”