Home From College During the Pandemic: It’s Lonely


“How’re your kids doing in college this year?” is a question many Georgetown parents are hearing these days. Increasingly the answer is: “Well, they’re happy when they can be on campus, but all their classes are remote. Oh, and they tested positive for COVID-19.”  

That was what longtime Georgetown resident Page Evans said when asked a few weeks ago about her daughter Katherine Schwartz, who had been a summer intern at The Georgetowner in 2018. A sophomore at the University of Virginia, studying English and media studies, she had tested positive for COVID-19 just a few weeks after returning to campus this fall.

“Yes,” said Schwartz matter-of-factly, during a phone call break from studying for finals on Dec. 3. “I had just settled into an apartment with three roommates. Everything was restricted. None of my classes were in-person, even though the smaller ones had been promised to be hybrid. But the campus library was open. Almost all my friends were in the same apartment building as me and we were just happy to be there after suddenly having to leave campus last spring and not come back till late September.

“Then, one morning, one of our apartment-building friends tested positive after her boyfriend had visited from North Carolina. It spread like wildfire,” Schwartz said. “Almost everyone in the building tested positive. A few of us were really sick for a week or so, with splitting, debilitating headaches, severely hurting muscles, constant fatigue and the loss of taste and smell. But nobody was hospitalized. I never had a cough or respiratory problems. The student health services administered tests and the state health department conducted contact tracing. The student hospital was available. We all quarantined together.  And everyone is fine now — at least physically.”

The bigger problem now is the mental health of students.  

“We all came home for Thanksgiving and the college told us the campus would be closed until February 2021. All our exams are remote. Being at home for many is bringing on anxieties like PTSD,” Schwartz said. “Many of us feel without purpose, without connection, not sure about what is ahead. Many of feel really lonely.”

Faulty members are anxious, too. “A majority of faculty members are reluctant to return to teaching in-person on campus unless they had access to an effective vaccine,” according to a fall survey of hundreds of Georgetown University faculty members. On Nov. 20, GU’s campus newspaper the Hoya reported: “Three-quarters of faculty surveyed want the university to restructure the budget and use its assets — including the endowment — to protect faculty and staff wages as well as access to research resources and facilities.”

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