“Coronavirus has gone through my university like a tsunami.”
When Kimi Zarate-Smith started University College London in September, she didn’t expect her first term to go south. The 18-year-old English Literature undergraduate only last week came out of a 10-day isolation period after testing positive for coronavirus. Her symptoms started to show two weeks before Halloween in mid-October.
“It was unsurprising that my test results came back positive,” she tells Refinery29. “One by one, new cases started popping up in each floor, it only took a week or so until almost everyone was self-isolating. We were all under the impression that for the majority of young people with coronavirus, their symptoms are mild or even non-existent. However, what I didn’t expect were the symptoms. It never worried me that for 10 days, I’d have to do some of the hardest work I’ve ever been set, while being the most ill I’ve ever felt.”
One by one, new cases started popping up in each floor, it only took a week or so until almost everyone was self-isolating
Kimi Zarate-smith, 18, ucl
Kimi said her symptoms ranged from a headache to her body completely aching, and only now has regained her sense of smell. “On the day I started isolating, I was so tired, and after I had woken up from six hour nap, I texted the people I had been hanging out with and they said they were experiencing symptoms too,” she says. “I couldn’t move, couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t breathe and walking to the bathroom would exhaust me.”
Recent figures show more than one million confirmed cases of Covid in the UK, while 47,000 people have died. ONS figures continue to show a sharp rise in weekly deaths in England and Wales since the beginning of July.
University newspaper The Tab last month reported that there had been Covid-19 cases confirmed in separate UCL accommodations: John Adams, St Pancras Way and Langton Close. At the time, a spokesperson from UCL told the paper: “We can confirm that a very small number of students have reported that they have tested positive for Covid-19 in unconnected cases in UCL managed halls and we have contacted some students asking them to self-isolate in line with Government guidance for the safety of members of both the UCL and wider community.”
We were all under the impression that for the majority of young people with coronavirus, their symptoms are mild or even non-existent. However, what I didn’t expect were the symptoms.
Kimi zarate-smith, 18, ucl
“When I started quarantining, the stress of my course intensified and I was falling behind,” continues Kimi, who is living in UCL halls in Bloomsbury. “With all the pressure from uni work, the physical strain from COVID, and the loneliness that arose from being stuck in my tiny box room, my mental health was rapidly deteriorating.”
She said was unable to leave her bedroom for the entirety of the 10 days. “I found myself unable to complete the work tasks, which resulted in spending lots of time in bed, wrapped up in a blanket, eating takeaway and watching Gossip Girl or TikTok. I had to ask another friend if they could run to Boots to pick up supplies for me, along with an extra pack of ibuprofen and a hot water bottle.”
I was meant to see my family and boyfriend during reading week [next week] but because of the new lockdown rules, this isn’t possible anymore.
Kimi zarate-smith, 18, ucl
She continues: “My brain got really foggy, and has been for some time. I had entered a pit of negativity and I was really conflicted about how I should’ve handled quarantine. On the one hand, it felt like I needed to read as much as I could for university, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to put pressure on myself to achieve academic goals when I was sick.”
Kimi says her experience with Covid and the sudden decline in her mental health made her consider dropping out of university altogether and this has been exacerbated by the UK’s second national lockdown which came into effect on Thursday. “I was meant to see my family and boyfriend during reading week [next week] but because of the new lockdown rules, this isn’t possible anymore. I thought about going home for the month and staying with my family, but I felt it might be easier to stay motivated with my studies if I’m in halls.”
While Kimi had considered moving back home to St Albans, she has decided against it due to the fact that not having her friends around her would make her feel lonely. “I wouldn’t want to be stuck at home for an entire month with no friends to keep me company. The environment that I’m in is incredibly important in maintaining my mental health, but obviously I miss home and I really wish I could go home and visit.
“And if I were to return home now, I’m not allowed to come back to halls and I would face a fine from my university.”
New government guidance published on Tuesday says some face-to-face teaching should continue, and Kimi is hoping that this will be the case for her, although she’s still waiting on an update from her university. “I hope the study spaces remain open so that I don’t feel like I’m stuck in halls. There’s definitely a cloud of uncertainty over what our course will look like this winter.”
Student life has been completely turned upside down, and the new normal is staying further away from what our expectations were back in September, but I’m glad I’m not in self-isolation anymore.
Kimi zarate-smith, 18, ucl
She continues: “Going out and seeing people from outside of my accommodation has been the best way I’ve made friends so far, and before the restrictions came into place I was able to meet people from the societies I’ve joined. But now I’m not able to do this, whether it’s going for a meal or heading to the pub for drinks, the coming months are going to be difficult.
“Student life has been completely turned upside down, and the new normal is staying further away from what our expectations were back in September, but I’m glad I’m not in self-isolation anymore.”
If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. Contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463. If you need urgent help, call the Samaritans on 116 123.
The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. It says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don’t get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.