Miranda: Northwestern failed me when I tested positive for COVID-19. The University also saved my life.

Alex Miranda, Op-Ed Contributor

I’m Alex Miranda, a Medill freshman, and I had severe mental health issues senior year of high school. 

I came out as gay last December while in a toxic relationship. That dynamic, coupled with in-person academic restrictions due to COVID-19, led me to be on track to fail school. The school was alerted of a photo of me abusing alcoholic substances; a counselor called me in. The following conversation is the reason I attend Northwestern today: “Alex, we know you’re a good kid. We want to make sure you’re okay.”

Through the support I received in counseling, my immediate family and an outstanding journalism program, I am okay.

I assumed an institution like NU with a multibillion dollar endowment had access to the same resources as my public high school, if not better.

However, when the University mismanaged my COVID-19 case last week, it also failed to make Counseling and Psychological Services accessible in quarantine. By doing so, they put my well-being at risk.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to access CAPS. But I easily could’ve and wouldn’t have been able to access its resources. On a physical and emotional level, NU dropped the ball by failing to effectively communicate as my COVID-19 case unfolded and isolated me from essential resources. 

Allow me to explain.  

On Sept. 19, I boarded a bus headed to Six Flags Great America as part of Wildcat Welcome. On the bus, we were told contact tracing would occur via sign-in sheet.

On Sept. 21, one friend from the bus informed me they had tested positive. They said the University would contact me shortly, but per University policy, I was allowed to resume on-campus activities.

On Sept. 22, a friend texted me to check my symptom tracker. It was red; I was not cleared for on-campus activities. I reported to the PCR testing site at Searle Hall and was told to contact COVID case management for information on what date I should receive a PCR test.

Based on my Sept. 19 exposure date, case management said I should report for testing Sept. 23. They asked if I was asymptomatic and vaccinated. I was. They turned my symptom tracker from red to green and allowed me to resume on-campus activities. 

On Sept. 23, I heard an individual in a class I attended the previous day tested positive.  

I reported to Searle to get a PCR. I asked the nurse administering my test if I should quarantine until my result was released; they didn’t give me a definitive answer. 

With a short line and a green symptom tracker, I made a split-second decision to complete a rapid test at the Donald P. Jacobs Center at 2:53 p.m. 

At 3:11 p.m., I received an email from Navica. My results were ready: Positive.

I assumed the University would contact me with a course of action immediately. I assumed wrong. 

The next correspondence I received from the University was an email from Northwestern Now compelling undergraduates to make a college “bucket list” at 3:54 p.m. 

I realized I must take initiative to contact the University myself. My calls to case management resulted in digital messages and referrals to other numbers. I informed others of my positive result; they couldn’t get tested because the Jacobs Center closed at 4 p.m.

I later received a call from case management. They told me they were understaffed and apologized for the delay in reaching out. My campus return date was communicated: Oct. 4 at midnight, 10 days after the Sept. 23 rapid test result. 

According to University policy, unless a student has family in the state of Illinois, they must report to Quarantine/Isolation housing. I told case management I have family in Illinois and they gave me the option to quarantine off-campus. I took it. 

I double masked, filled backpacks with personal belongings and left campus. 

On Sept. 24, the PCR I took at Searle returned positive. A representative from case management called. Before I was able to share close contacts, my mother rang. The call disconnected. 

Case management left a voicemail at 2:52 p.m. with a number and an email. I called multiple times with no response. I reached out via email, no reply. 

I did not receive a call from case management until Sept. 27. I explained to them that day that I now had two negative COVID tests on file from a drive-through testing center in DuPage County.

I then communicated my close contacts by reviewing Snapchat memories from Sept. 19 to 23. I was not given a clear answer as to whether these individuals would be contacted given their accurate exposure period for a PCR had passed. 

A Snapchat picture from Lisa’s Cafe drew my attention from the evening of Sept. 21. Though I remembered discerning the juice flavor, the chicken itself tasted bland. Given I was vaccinated and eating at the cafe for the first time, I assumed nothing. Looking back, I realized I experienced partial loss of taste on Sept. 21.

I communicated this to case management; my return was expedited from midnight Oct. 4 to midnight Oct. 2. They said they’d contact me Oct. 1 with instructions regarding symptom tracker and Wildcard clearance. 

On Sept. 28, a DuPage County representative under the Illinois Department of Public Health called. They were concerned with my irregular testing history and wanted to follow up on my case in detail. I felt frustrated the University left me to explain myself. 

When the University did not reach out to me on Oct. 1 regarding midnight Oct. 2 clearance, I reached out to them. A case management team member said I didn’t have clearance until midnight Oct. 4. After explaining my situation once again and being put on hold, I was told my symptom tracker had been cleared for midnight Oct. 2. I needed to call Evanston Wildcard for clearance into buildings.

I received a digital message: Evanston Wildcard was closed.

I called case management again; they attached me to a housing services email to receive clearance for my Oct. 2 midnight arrival. I got to campus shortly after midnight. 

The faults presented in my timeline were not only disappointing on a personal degree, but also made me question how much the University truly cares about students as holistic individuals. 

NU students deserve a concrete plan for what happens if they test positive for COVID-19, as isolation can extend beyond physical limitations to negatively impact mental health.

At my public high school, getting in contact with a counselor is immediate. NU has no excuse. Students deserve accessible mental health resources. As a freshman, I’m appalled by how little resources are actively available for students in need. 

My parents understood I was stressed by this experience and said they could put me in contact with a family therapist. I told them that’s exactly the point. A portion of my deserving, intelligent peers attend this University on full scholarship programs such as QuestBridge. They don’t have access to the same outside privileges I do. 

I was told upon campus arrival that students make all the important change here. I didn’t realize the magnitude of that notion would be exposed in full so early on in my collegiate career. 

This is bigger than a toxic relationship. The University’s system treated me so poorly it counterintuitively helped affirm my life is worth living, as I further learned the importance of self-worth and respect concerning how I deserve to be treated. 

So thank you, NU, for the college introduction. We have a lot of work to do.

Alex Miranda is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.