At first, Oklahoma State University freshman Aubrie Penfield attributed her body aches, sore throat, runny nose and “stuffy feeling” to allergies and carrying her belongings up three flights of stairs on move-in day.
But when her COVID-19 test — administered as part of the move-in process for on-campus residents — came back positive the following day, she quickly realized the seriousness of her situation.
“I think it is so important for students to know that if they are feeling sick, go get tested,” she said. “Students should be taking this so seriously because this is a crazy time, and it could be potentially dangerous for a lot of people. If we don’t take this seriously … we could be sent home and this opportunity that OSU is providing could be taken away from us. So I think that if we love being here, we need to do whatever we can to stay here.
“I’m so excited for this school year, especially amongst all the craziness,” she said. “I’m so grateful that OSU is providing us the opportunity to be in person as long as we can.”
Still, Penfield hesitated to tell others that she is one of more than 6.6 million Americans who have contracted the virus in the past seven months.
“I was a little nervous how people were going to react,” she said. “Would they be nice? I had been in my apartment for two days. … I was scared people would be mad at me for potentially exposing them.”
That wasn’t the case at all.
Under contact tracing, she had to let others know she tested positive and that they should be tested.
“Everyone was so caring and understanding with what I was going through,” she said.
Penfield later learned that she probably contracted coronavirus when visiting and saying goodbye to a friend in her hometown of Lansing, Kansas, days before moving to Stillwater.
The communications sciences and disorders major isolated in a designated room on campus from Aug. 9-18. The university brought meals to her door and emailed her professors to make sure she had everything she needed. She participated in sorority recruitment online and was able to livestream her classes.
“I knew the university wasn’t isolating me to punish me but rather to protect me and protect other people,” Penfield said. “I really did feel taken care of. If I had any questions, I could call the COVID hotline and knew I’d get an answer.”
Tanya Massey, assistant director for residential living within the Department of Housing and Residential Life, was taking those calls. She understood the importance of making students as comfortable as possible. There were 34 students in university quarantine locations as of Sept. 13.
“Something I tell my staff is people trust us with their kids, and we need to be worthy of that trust,” Massey said. “It is really hard on these students. They feel isolated. They want to make connections. We really try to make sure we are providing as much care and attention as possible.”
Someone who appreciated that level of attention for students was Kelly Penfield, a 1993 OSU graduate and Aubrie’s mother. In fact, the Penfield family thanked Massey with a bouquet of flowers.
“We feel like people are quick to complain when things don't go smoothly, but we wanted Tanya to know we were grateful for her professionalism, compassion and personal attention,” Kelly Penfield said. “We called Tanya a lot in the early days. She proactively kept us informed and coordinated actions across university support systems to minimize the impact of Aubrie’s time in isolation. While Aubrie's first college experience is nothing like we (Aubrie’s father, Greg, is also a 1993 OSU graduate) have ever seen, this did reinforce to her how much OSU values its students and that its actions reflect a sense of family.”
Caring with Packages
In addition to the care quarantined students received from the university, a small group of OSU faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members from a local church came together to support students impacted by the coronavirus. The group collected and donated dozens of care packages in August with plans to give more throughout the semester.
The first delivery of non-perishable items included soup, crackers, candy bars and words of encouragement.
“Our faith prompts us to have compassion and to care about other people,” said OSU alumna Emily Emerson. “I thought about how it would be to be a person on campus and have to be quarantined a couple weeks without anybody else, so I thought we could do something to make that time that they have to spend in quarantine a little bit nicer.”
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