Kernel social media manager Sarah Simon-Patches tested positive for COVID-19 through UK’s testing service. UK Health Corps said someone would call everyday to check in. That hasn’t happened in six days. Read her story:
On Sunday, Aug. 9, I went to get tested for COVID-19. That morning, my throat was scratchy. I took a Mucinex, assuming it was allergies, and got ready for my day. Through my own fault, I had misread my appointment time. By the time I realized, it was an hour past. I thought to myself, “They wouldn’t have the audacity to tell me I can’t get tested,” and went ahead to Kroger Field. The scene in the parking lot was one I had become accustomed to: bright orange cones directing traffic to spread out, white tents, surrounded by various UKPD patrol cars with officers who told me which lane to drive through.
I drove my car up to the tent, checked in for my appointment and pulled my mask down past my nose. The swab went in and out and in and out again. It burned like it always does and my eyes were watery. I was told I was finished and drove away. My itchy throat had disappeared and I felt fine. I wasn’t worried about my results.
I began moving into my new apartment the next day. As I was collecting the last of my things from my parent’s house, I got a phone call from a Lexington number. Normally, I let any call I don’t know go to voicemail. This time, I had a feeling I should answer. I was right: it was UK Health Corps.
“They don’t call if you’re negative,” I thought to myself as my cheeks flushed and my heart sank with terror. I clicked answer call.
The man on the phone told me the call was confidential. The first of many tears fell down my cheek, and I felt sick. My head got light and I couldn’t focus on what he was saying.
“What?” I said. “What did you say?”
He told me I had tested positive for COVID-19, that he was sorry and that probably wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I had to laugh at that one, despite a Noah’s Ark-worth of waterworks and utter shock at what I was hearing. More than anything, I wanted to call my parents.
“Oh my God,” I thought. “What am I supposed to do?”
I asked the same of the poor man on the other end of the line.
“We’re going to ask you to isolate,” he explained. “For 10 days from when your symptoms started. Can you walk me through the three days before you got tested?”
I sat in silence, wracking my brain for a detail from any day other than the present one. I could barely remember what I had eaten for dinner the night before. I slowly filled in the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before my test. I relayed that I had thought I had allergies, just allergies. I couldn’t believe it. Coronavirus. To this day, I have no idea where I picked it up.
Although I desperately wanted to hang up and call my dad, I spent 40 minutes on the line detailing every person I had been in contact with in those few days. The pit in my stomach grew with each person I had unknowingly put at risk. The man continuously thanked me for my compliance and said that I was helping to keep others safe. It certainly didn’t feel that way. At the time and even now, it shocked me that I was being thanked. Have other people not been providing this information? What about contact tracing?
After I had finished, the man told me I should expect a call daily from UK Health Corps to check in on me and my symptoms. After 10 days, on Aug. 19, the Health Department would release me from my quarantine. I was to take my temperature often and report any new symptoms I had. I wondered if they really planned on calling me every day and reveled in how apocalyptic it all seemed. I got comfortable on my mattress on the floor (I had managed to get my entire bed moved before the call) and laid my thermometer and a box of tissues next to me. I mentally prepared for a tough 10 days.
For the next two days, UK followed through. I received an email both mornings with a link to a survey where I reported my symptoms. Sure enough, I was called by UK Health Corps, although I was never directly contacted by any wellness sub-committee like I was assured I would be. Nonetheless, I was impressed by UK’s tenacity and felt reassured that they cared if I made it or not.
I was told by those I had been around that no one had called them. “Are you sure?” I asked. “I gave them your number.” No. They had heard nothing.
I wondered what the point had been. Why was I asked who I had been around, only to find out UK Health Corps never contacted them? That I’d been the only person to relay my positive results? I blamed it on a high test volume. I figured it was alright because I had notified them myself. But what if I hadn’t?
It has been eight days since I tested positive for COVID-19. I have felt fine, other than mild congestion and no smell. It has felt strange and unnerving and devastating. Through it all, I haven’t heard a thing from my university. Not one peep since Wednesday, Aug. 11.
The Fayette County Health Department called, but what they told me was shocking: all they had received from UK was a spreadsheet with my name, phone number and the word “positive."
School started today. It’s the first day of my last year at the University of Kentucky, and I’m suffocating in the same four walls I’ve been seeing for the past 168 hours. I have two days before I’m released from quarantine, and I’m itching to get back to my “normal” life. But I’m terrified, too.
If I was one of the first students to test positive, what is going to happen today? Tomorrow? The rest of this week? If UK is so overwhelmed already that they can’t check on me, one student, how do they think they can control the outburst of positive tests that are about to come through?
To my fellow students: Be responsible. Wear your mask, wash your hands. I am a healthy 20-year-old who actually took this thing seriously, and I still caught it, and had mild symptoms. Coronavirus is not a joke, nor should it be treated like one.
To the University of Kentucky: I am scared. I tested positive, and you left me in silence. I don’t trust you to take care of me, or anyone else. Do better, or don’t do it at all.
To everyone reading this: Thank you for letting me share my story. Stay safe and be well.
Editor's note: Two of Simon-Patches' friends agreed to speak to the Kernel. One, fifth year international studies major Dylan Glosa, said she was contacted by UK Health Corps and told to quarantine. She said the contact tracer told her the date of her exposure, but not the name of the person who tested positive. Glosa said Simon-Patches had already called her about her positive a few hours before she heard from contact tracing.
Simon-Patches' friend Emily Zukauskas has not heard from the contact tracers on UK Health Corps' team, now eight days on from Simon-Patches' positive result.
Zukauskas, a sophomore communication sciences and disorders major, was informed by Simon-Patches that she had tested positive and Zukauskas had been exposed.
Zukauskas then spoke to the house mom of her sorority, who after speaking to the dean of Zukauskas' college, told her she needed to isolate for 14 days.
"I actually didn't know that the university was planning on doing contact tracing until this happened, but it does concern me a little bit," Zukauskas said.
UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said that according to Simon-Patches' case file, the UK Health Corps identified 13 high exposure contacts. Nine of those were non-UK constituents (students or employees) and their information was passed on to Fayette County or other districts for follow-up contact, as is protocol.
Blanton said UK Health Corps reached out to all four remaining contacts.
"We have records of either direct contact or leaving messages, which were not returned, between Aug. 10 and Aug. 13," Blanton said.
An earlier version of this post misidentified Dylan Glosa as he/him. The article has been changed to correct the mistake.