Yale Students Grapple With Coronavirus Campus Restrictions | Connecticut Public Radio

Yale Students Grapple With Coronavirus Campus Restrictions

Mar 11, 2020

As college campuses across the country grapple with potential outbreaks of the coronavirus, Yale University has told students to not come back after spring break -- but that decision was made after spring break started, leaving many students in limbo.

For seniors Julianna Fan, Elisabeth Siegel and Sue Hong, spring break looks and feels drastically different from what they had originally planned. Instead of hopping on a flight to Spain, they sat outside on a grassy patch of Yale’s campus with paint and small canvases.

“We planned a trip to Madrid last summer in July, and then all of last week we were debating whether to go or not,” Hong said.

Spain hasn’t been designated as a Level 3 country like China, Italy, Iran or South Korea, but the three friends were still scared about getting quarantined once they got back. They decided Spain was out. Hong suggested her friends come with her to Philadelphia, where she was supposed to present at a conference. Then the conference was canceled. 

“After Madrid plans were canceled, we tried to like have some semblance of a vacation, even if it’s here,” Hong said. “So we planned out an activity every day.”

On Wednesday, they were painting and bowling. Earlier in the week, they’d climbed East Rock and gone to the movies, scrambling to make memories before what would likely be the last time they’d see one another for a while.

Yale University seniors Sue Hong (left), Elisabeth Siegel (center) and Julianna Fan (right) planned a week of activities in New Haven after canceling the trip they'd booked to Madrid for spring break.
Credit Ryan Lindsay / Connecticut Public

“It’s all gone,” Siegel said. “We’ll still have classes on Zoom I suppose, but just like none of the social aspects of college because they’re not letting us be in the same place.”

Yale has told students not to return after spring break and asked them to leave campus by March 15, if they haven’t already. Fan is headed to California. Siegel said she’s trying to stay on the East Coast instead of Nevada. And Hong will go home to Illinois. For pre-med students like Hong, the question of how the university will make up for lab classes still needs an answer.  

“I think we all cried yesterday, to be honest,” Hong said. “This is our senior spring and we’re not going to be able to see each other for a while. I guess it’s all in the sake of public health, which makes sense, but it’s crazy how this has really uprooted the rest of our semester.”

A few feet away, Tonya Johnson stopped to catch her breath after carrying a laundry basket of her son Sean’s clothes down four flights of stairs.

“We were able to convince him not to go on spring break, and that was a big job to convince him, but eventually he did decide to come home,” Johnson said. “But he didn’t bring anything with him hardly, so now we’re here collecting his items because now the school is closed.”

Tonya Johnson carries her son Sean's clothes to her car. Sean had plans to travel abroad for his spring break but decided to go home to New Jersey instead.
Credit Ryan Lindsay / Connecticut Public

Though her son is a sophomore, he had big plans for spring break, too.

“He was headed with his friends to the Dominican Republic, so they decided to continue on,” Johnson said, “and he made the decision on his own to come home and stay safe.”

Home for the Johnsons is Bergen County, New Jersey. Johnson drove to back to New Haven after Yale’s latest announcement to keep students off campus even after spring break ends.

“I believe social containment is indeed the best option for us, of course you use vigilance,” Johnson said, “but certainly those of us who have compromised either grandparents or others in our family that we love, we want to be as vigilant as possible and as safe as possible.”

But not all students planned to leave New Haven for spring break, and some couldn’t afford to leave campus for the next three weeks. Akwele Larti, a sophomore from Philadelphia, sat on a bench eating ice cream with her friend. She had to make arrangements with the head of her college in order to stay on campus.

“I was somewhat nervous, I think because of the lack of information in the beginning, or the lack of standard information; people were getting different things,” Larti said. “And I guess I’m still somewhat nervous about what’s going to happen to other people I care about.”

The potential spread of coronavirus has complicated what life looks like for these students and their friends. Yale officials say they’ll assess whether keeping students off campus will extend beyond April 5 as the situation develops. In the meantime, the university will host classes online until further notice.