After the entire world spent months under house arrest, I didn’t expect my 10-day quarantine sentence to be breaking news. But I contracted the coronavirus right as Notre Dame was going viral.
The semester had started out suspiciously calm, but one week in, the wheels started coming off. As COVID-19 snaked its way through the student body, hundreds of us contagious patients were carted away to isolation.
The outbreak was a national spectacle. As breaking news and hot takes erupted on my phone and laptop, I found myself in a quiet apartment, waiting. I was left to my own electronic devices, and I couldn’t tear myself away.
My mild case of COVID-19 earned me a brief stay in Notre Dame’s upscale quarantine apartments, where I spent a week and a half doing many of the same things I’d done since March: puttering around the kitchen, playing podcasts on my phone, twiddling my thumbs. Amid all the suffering and solitude of the pandemic, it would be disingenuous to turn my quarantine experience into a sob story.
Everyone knows the pandemic has been isolating. Families have mourned lost loved ones alone, funerals postponed indefinitely. Couples have tied the knot privately, large wedding ceremonies out of the question.
Though I was locked up alone, the solitude those 10 days wasn’t striking. No, what was striking was the deafening, irresistible noise.
In quarantine, my screens were on fire. Online — with the news of Notre Dame’s COVID-19 cases spreading nationwide — everyone and their mother had something to say. My phone being my only source of human contact, I perused Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter with a newfound fervor.
On social media, students pointed fingers about Notre Dame’s disastrous start to the semester. In national news outlets, commentators hunted for the source of the University’s failure.
But in the stillness of my apartment, I felt like I was in the eye of the storm. Everything — my health, my hallway, the street outside my window — was calm.
Initially, I watched the media circus from the outside, not daring to wade into the conversation. But when an editor from the newspaper where I interned this summer asked me to write about my experience, the noise on my screens grew even louder.
My newspaper piece was, I thought, a fairly milquetoast description of the outbreak and my mild case of COVID-19. But I quickly learned that to even mention the virus was to open the floodgates of online hullabaloo.
“Pathetic piece,” one Twitter user wrote in response. “I’ll send you a participation trophy.”
“I will give her the world’s smallest violin,” another tweeted. “Get over yourself.”
If the internet commenters weren’t rolling their eyes, they were panicking. Reading my Twitter mentions, you would’ve wondered whether I was on my deathbed or just crying about a skinned knee.
Then the DMs and phone calls arrived. National outlets were interested in my story. A producer at CNN called to ask if I could do a live interview sometime in the next few days. I agreed and was left to wait again, alone with my thoughts — and the thoughts of thousands of strangers, glowing through my phone screen.
That night, I couldn’t sleep much. I woke up from a nightmare and then just laid there, waiting some more. I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was the way to heal. COVID-19 is a serious virus, one which has ravaged communities and transformed the world. It’s also so atomizing. All of us have borne our own version of this suffering quietly. We shout our frustrations into the online void, our worst impulses echoing across cyberspace, and then retreat back to solitude.
I was lucky. The virus left little lasting impact on me, save for a little scare. But I know that hasn’t been the case for millions of other people across the world who have been touched by this illness, who have said goodbye to loved ones over video call, who have suffered irreparable harm.
My stint in quarantine ended unceremoniously. After 10 days with no new symptoms, a contact tracer cleared me for release. My roommate drove me back to our dorm room, where everything was sitting just as I had left it.
A couple days later, back in the dorm, the CNN producer called again. They were ready to interview me. I scrambled to find a presentable outfit and a neutral backdrop. Then I waited for the camera to start rolling.
The anchor asked me about testing, quarantine, how I was doing. She asked me about returning to school: Was it worth it? I told her I didn’t think there was an easy answer to that question.
“There’s a lot people right there, in the situation like you are. We’re glad to see that you’re feeling so well,” she told me. “Thank you for talking to us.” And the camera cut.
My moment in the spotlight was over. CNN was on to the next breaking news story. And I was left waiting in the quiet.
Genevieve Redsten is a junior English and anthropology major.