Tigers in Cages
Meet the Subjects
Megan Matty
     Megan Matty rode to quarantine housing in the trunk of a friend’s SUV. When she got a call from a contact tracer, informing her someone she had been in contact with was COVID-positive and she needed to get to quarantine housing, information about how the carless junior should get there wasn’t included. So, when Matty called a friend about giving her a ride, bumping down the streets of Columbia in a trunk seemed like the best option. 
     “She was doing me this big favor and I did not want to put her in danger of testing positive,” Matty said. 
     MU left something else out in planning Matty’s stay in university quarantine housing: toilet paper. The household necessity that became more precious than gold in the opening weeks of the pandemic was missing from the Campus Lodge apartment where Matty and three others would be staying. Fortuitously, she had grabbed some as she left her dorm. 
     Matty knew the three people staying in the apartment with her.
They all worked together and soon realized they likely had the same COVID contact. Knowing who she was sharing walls with was a comfort, and because they worked together they felt comfortable driving to get tested together — everyone tested negative. But even then, they were told to stay in their respective rooms and that if they were to use the shared living space or kitchen, they were to be masked and socially distance.
     “It was like being almost in an insane asylum,” Matty said. The walls of the Campus Lodge apartment were white and barren, not at all like the picture-decorated dorm room she’d come to view as home. The emptiness, alongside the stress of quarantine itself, took a toll on Matty’s mental health. It was a place that, unfortunately, she probably should’ve been in longer. 
     Not every MU student spends two weeks in quarantine housing. Instead, Show Me Renewal policies say students should be kept in quarantine two weeks from contact with a positive case. Matty came into contact with a COVID-positive person on Aug. 19. She was contacted by a contact tracer seven days later and spent seven days in quarantine before leaving Campus Lodge. But Matty was also in contact with the same COVID-positive person on Aug. 22 — MU took her out of quarantine three days early. 

Colby Thornton
     Colby Thornton never tested positive for COVID-19. In fact, he twice tested negative during two different trips to MU quarantine housing. The MU junior first went into quarantine in late August when a university contact tracer called him eight days after he was exposed. After leaving quarantine and being exposed a second time, Thornton went back into quarantine a second time in late September. This time, it only took five days for a contact tracer to get ahold of him. 
     That delay in contact tracing is the spearpoint of Thornton’s gripe about MU’s COVID-19 response. 
     “To say that we have quick concise contact tracing is just false to me and I don’t think that’s a narrative we should be spreading,” Thornton said. 
     Thornton worked as a summer welcome leader, and he knew the university’s Show Me Renewal Plan like the back of his hand. Regardless, he alluded to holes in the information he was given. Thornton said he had no idea what to do if he’d come into contact with someone who tested positive but hadn’t tested positive himself.
     Because he wasn’t COVID-positive, there was nothing to self-report. The contact tracer who called Thornton didn’t tell him that he was supposed to tell MU Res Life that he’d been contacted. At one point, he called a senior MU administrator — whose number he just so happened to have — and was left with the impression that this administrator was also confused as to what Thornton should do. 
     “That worried me a little bit,” Thornton said. “Does our administration even know what our COVID plan is? Because there is no reason a student should know your COVID plan better than you.”
     Thornton said he thinks MU’s COVID-19 response has improved over the semester, but that it needs to continue to improve — contact tracing in particular. He also said it got off on the wrong foot by not testing students as they returned to campus. 
     “We’ve heard different things about how testing is a snapshot of the moment, which is true, I understand that,” Thornton said. “I think at the beginning, I wish we would've been able to test all students as they were coming in. I don’t know how much it would’ve helped, but I know a lot of universities did and I imagine spread probably would've been slower if the students who first got there weren’t able to transfer it, or at least were able to be quarantined so we knew who did and who didn’t have it.”

Peyton Zigrang
   Peyton Zigrang never gets headaches. So, when her head started to pound on Sept. 1, she knew something was wrong. When it was still there the next morning, she decided to go to the COVID-19 testing site at Mizzou North. She said the very fact that she had to drive off-campus to get a test “weirded” her out. 
   “A lot of freshmen don’t have cars,” Zigrang said. 
   After a short mix-up about a referral — no one had ever told Zigrang that she needed a doctor’s referral to receive a test — she got her test. A few hours later, she had the results.
   What she didn’t have were any instructions from the University of Missouri about what she should do next. After he positive test, no one called her about what to do, so she waited in her room. The next day, Zigrang’s mother told her the university had called her about quarantine housing or going home. Later, a caseworker finally contacted Zigrang directly to let her know she would be staying in a hotel. Which hotel? What time would she need to be ready by? What should she expect in the meantime?
The caseworker did not tell Zigrang any of those things.   
     At 9 p.m., a van picked Zigrang up to take her to the University-chosen hotel. The hotel walls were thin. Across the hall from her, Zigrang could hear people screaming and banging on those thin walls. As the apparent fight moved outside her door in the early hours of the morning, Zigrang called her parents because she feared for her safety.
   Zigrang’s parents began making calls. A call to the hotel Zigrang was originally staying in revealed management wasn’t even aware MU had been booking students to stay there for quarantine. A room at the Tiger was booked, starting the next day. Zigrang’s stepmother called her caseworker, angry at the unsafe situation in which they had put Zigrang.  
   "You could tell that there was a huge lack of communication between the hotels and Mizzou,” Zigrang said. “But at the Tiger Hotel, when I got there the next day, I felt a lot safer there. They had a better system including quarantine floors, it seemed like everyone on that floor was a student."
   Even after the fiasco of the first hotel, Zigrang said communication between her and MU was sparse. 
   “[My caseworker] just didn't really seem like she knew what she was doing,” Zigrang said. “She didn't really contact me throughout all of this, the contact tracers didn't even contact me until a week after I tested positive. So that's a full week people who were exposed could have been out there, not knowing." 

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