Several USC Annenberg students and one professor recently finished a 14-day self-quarantine period due to a potential COVID-19 exposure at a conference in New Orleans.

After returning from the 2020 National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference, several students and one faculty who attended were advised to self-quarantine by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as a conference attendee tested presumptively positive for COVID-19 on March 10. On March 16, a second attendee also tested presumptively positive. Both attendees recovered at home, according to the conference’s statement.

USC students and faculty who attended the conference talked about their self-quarantine experience and future plans with Annenberg Media.

Vanessa Gaie, a graduate student studying journalism, said the university arranged for affected students to self-quarantine in the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Little Tokyo and provided them with a $70 room credit and gift cards to order food.

“I think the communication [with the university] overall was pretty good. Everybody got back quickly if we ran out of funds on Grubhub,” Gaie said. “All of our needs were answered and taken care of for sure.”

In addition, Gaie said USC Student Health provided students with thermometers to keep track of their temperature, as well as checked in on students.

“After the first week, they were calling us every day to make sure we didn't have symptoms, make sure our temperature was regular,” Gaie said.

Gaie said she spent most of her self-quarantine watching shows to keep herself entertained.

“'We weren't supposed to leave our rooms, of course. Everything has to be done like right at our door,” Gaie said. “It's easy to go crazy in there. It feels like being stuck in solitary confinement.”

Another attendee Peggy Bustamante, associate professor of professional practice at USC Annenberg, said she started self-quarantine at home on March 10 when she was notified that an attendee tested positive for COVID-19.

“It was not as bad as I was anticipating,” Bustamante said. “I had done some grocery shopping that afternoon, so I wasn't in dire straits.”

Bustamante said social isolation is the hardest part of self-quarantine compared to other problems, like food supply and entertainment, because it led people to panic. Understanding and supporting each other during self-quarantine is important, she added.

“We worked it out together, because it's a very unknown territory,” Bustamante said. “There were some other friends who had also gone to the conference … We checked in and one day I'd be panicking, and he'd be calm, and then the next day, he'd be panicking, and I'd calm him down.”

Bustamante also agreed that the university has been communicative during the self-quarantine process.

“I have no complaints about it. They were very responsive and making sure the students were safe,” Bustamante said.

Bustamante said by the time their self-quarantine ended, the city of Los Angeles had ordered residents to stay at home and practice social distancing, so she has continued self-quarantine and worked remotely from her home.

“I’ve basically gone from being quarantined to being quarantined,” Bustamante said. “One of the fears was I’m going to get too used to being alone, and you definitely develop a little agoraphobia.”