Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with An Luu, a 21-year-old senior at Rice University in Houston, who got a false positive due to a COVID-19 test glitch earlier this month. Luu was one of many Rice students whose positive (later discovered to be false positive) test results caused the university to move classes online. Ninety-five percent of the student population of Rice is vaccinated, including Luu. Slate reached out to Rice University’s Crisis Management Team for comment on Luu’s experience. They pointed us to the statement the university issued about the false positives earlier this week. This piece has been transcribed, condensed, and edited for clarity by Julia Craven.
I took the test last Wednesday, during the first week of orientation for new students. I had come back to campus two weeks before school started, with all of the upperclassmen selected to serve as advisers. We’re put through training so we can help new students prepare for student life here. The following week, new students arrive and have orientation week, or O-week for short.
During O-week, we all had sore throats and we were all tired. We’re constantly helping and cheering on the new students. We were already very stressed out and were trying to give all these students the best possible experience. We’d heard that around 15 people tested positive in one of the residential colleges. They were just rumors at the time.
Once that happened, we were really worried. The coordinators of our residential college stated that we all had to get a COVID test. We scheduled it and I went with the group of new students that I was taking care of. We all went and got the COVID test together, didn’t think anything of it, and went back to our residential college. Then, around 7 p.m. on Thursday, I got a call from the university Crisis Management Team stating that I tested positive. I was really shocked because I followed all of Rice’s guidelines. I was wearing a mask indoors and limiting contact.
I tested positive for COVID last summer. So, when I heard I got COVID twice, I was just really scared. Also, O-week is one of the most significant experiences for new students and I couldn’t be there. I couldn’t be fully present for my students. And I just broke down because it was very stressful.
That same night, I was told to move out of my dorm and I was placed in the housing available for visiting professors. They told me to pack bedding and clothes. I brought one suitcase and a small backpack. I packed as much as I could. And I was very cautious. I waited until 9 o’clock at night to walk over because, if I had COVID, I didn’t want to give it to anybody.
I was rooming with another person that had a false positive as well. We had no symptoms whatsoever. We were really wary of each other. We both wore masks all the time and there was no divided area. And I was fortunate to have just one roommate.
I got an email later that night stating that all asymptomatic positives were being retested on Friday morning. So, I went and took Rice’s LAMP test the next day, which is saliva based, and I tested negative. But they wanted to confirm, so they sent me to a Methodist Hospital testing provider for a PCR test on Saturday. There were only two nurses on call when I went. There was a very long line and I waited for at least two hours to get a COVID test. I was exhausted and weary from all the testing. I didn’t even want to see if I actually got COVID or not. But the test came back negative.
After that, Rice’s Crisis Management Team told me that I was free to move back into my residential college. I was angry once I found out that it was a false positive. I was mad that I missed out on O-week. I felt like I missed something that I applied for, basically a job, something that I had training for and I wasn’t able to use any of it for the new students during orientation week. That was really upsetting. I really wanted to help my new students. But I missed everything. And it’s like an experience for yourself too.
But I was also relieved that it was a false positive and happy that I got to see my new students and friends again. It’s totally understandable that mistakes happen. But at the same time, it sucks.
Unfortunately for me, my experience with crisis management was worse than others. I got that call stating that I had to move from my residential college with no in-depth instructions from anybody whatsoever. They told me to submit a health reporting form, which I did. I was isolated in my room. They said the food was going to be delivered to me. Food was not delivered to me. I had to ask my friends to bring me food. I was really worried because I felt like there wasn’t going to be anybody to help me out.
I was just left in the dark, stuck with COVID, supposedly.