One of Pepperdine’s quarantine and isolation facilities, the Mt. Crags Conference Center, is located in a wooded area of the Malibu canyon with both private and group rooms. Resident Directors live on-site to address student needs, and a full-time staff is there to drop off food, towels, sheets and pick up trash without having contact with the students.
Photos by Dane Bruhahn
Pepperdine’s COVID-19 quarantine and isolation guidelines raise questions from community members, causing confusion and concern for some students.
There are two designated quarantine facilities for Pepperdine students — Villa Graziadio and Mt. Crags Conference Center. When vaccinated students become exposed to COVID-19 or any student tests positive for the virus, the University sends them to a facility to be kept out of contact with staff and other students.
Residential Life staff and the Student Health Center work together to evaluate and enforce rules to keep the University safe, Director of Residence Life Maura Page said. Students like first-year student Liam Zieg, however, said they experienced a lack of communication and mixed messages from the school.
“We really are the guinea pigs of the whole COVID and quarantine and isolation stuff,” Zieg said.
More than 100 Seaver College students have isolated in University-run facilities with positive COVID-19 test results since classes began in August, Medical Director at the SHC Dr. Lucy Larson wrote in an email to the Graphic. Forty unvaccinated students had to quarantine as a result of being in close contact, Larson wrote.
The Mt. Crags Conference Center has small houses where students isolate together and individual rooms for isolation and quarantine, Page said.
The Villa offers single rooms with private bathrooms. Since the Villa is located on campus, Page said, Resident Directors do not live in the facility.
Page said the University provides medical transport for students, and the SHC organizes room arrangements. All students in quarantine, Page said, stay in individual rooms, while isolated students with positive test results can be placed together at the discretion of the University’s medical professionals.
The University used trailers in Rho Parking Lot for quarantine purposes but stopped in mid-September because the other facilities had sufficient capacity, Larson wrote.
Still, many students who tested positive for COVID-19 the first few weeks of school, such as first-year Race Skrmetta, spent their 10 days of isolation there.
Skrmetta said the trailer had five bedrooms with 10 total beds and one shower.
Expecting to spend the isolation alone, Skrmetta said he was surprised when other students began showing up to his trailer.
“Even though there were only three of us in there, they had all of us in the same room, which was a little weird,” Skrmetta said.
Having eight people living in a trailer was distracting from schoolwork and also made it more difficult to rest and recover from COVID-19, Skrmetta said.
“We were all in different classes at different times; there was one desk per room, so if there was more than one person per room, you had to go to the common area table,” Skrmetta said. “And then there were more people out there, and it just got very, very hectic sometimes during the day.”
First-year student Delanie Carpenter said she is unvaccinated and had to quarantine at both the Villa and the conference center after coming into close contact with a positive case.
“They [the conference center staff] leave stuff at your door, and they knock on it,” Carpenter said. “So you can hear them, and by the time you get to the door, they’re usually gone, and you just grab it and bring it in your room.”
At the conference center, Carpenter said her room was spacious but had no hot water, and no one collected her trash despite residential life staff informing her they would come daily. When she moved to the Villa, the amenities were much better, she said.
“They have a TV, Keurig, microwave and warm showers,” Carpenter said.
Page said staff should come daily to pick up trash and wrote in an email that if a student has a maintenance issue — such as with the water system — they can inform the RD on duty for the conference center staff to fix it.
For all students in isolation and quarantine, food arrives at 4:30 p.m., with a fresh dinner from Waves Cafe, meals for the next day, snacks and water bottles, Page said. Any student with dietary restrictions or food preferences can reach out to the RD, she said.
Students such as Carpenter said the RDs on duty were always helpful and communicated well with them.
When he first arrived, Zieg said he expected people to check on him and lay out the guidelines clearly. After a few days of making calls to different departments, however, Zieg said every time he asked a question, the answer changed.
“It seems like the health center is telling us one thing, then the Resident Directors are telling us a different thing and then DPS is telling us a whole different thing,” Zieg said. “It just seems like none of them are communicating.”
Larson wrote the SHC does not offer “on-site, 24-hour medical care” but can be reached during business hours on weekdays if a sick student feels the need to call.
“Residential students in I/Q [Isolation/Quarantine] housing have immediate access to the Resident Director on duty, or they can call 911,” Larson wrote. “Students can also request a call from the SHC through the follow-up form.”
Page said the University provides PCR tests for any students who need to confirm a positive case before being placed in isolation.
“Students who test positive through a rapid test — they go to quarantine for a day until they have, I believe, a PCR test to confirm,” Page said.
Zieg said he had a different experience, however. Zieg got a positive rapid COVID-19 test on his own at a pharmacy after learning his suitemate tested positive. When he asked if he should be tested with a PCR, Zieg said he was surprised the SHC decided to rely only on the rapid test results.
“They decided it was unnecessary for me to get a different test,” Zieg said. “So they were just like, ‘You can get it if you really want it.’”
The University presumes students who obtain a positive result to be infected if they have had a close contact, such as a suitemate, Larson wrote.
“Some students will obtain testing at outside facilities, and we do not have control over which tests are performed,” Larson wrote. “If a confirmatory PCR is obtained following a positive antigen test, the individual still needs to isolate while waiting for the PCR result.”
Students who test positive through the University’s weekly screening testing do not get retested, Page said.
Skrmetta said he wishes the University prioritized retesting after his weekly on-campus test came back positive. He said he was asymptomatic and stayed in a Rho trailer with several students, and three or four days later, Skrmetta began to experience COVID-19 symptoms. After confirming that all his close contacts — including his roommate and suitemates — tested negative, Skrmetta wondered if his initial result was a false positive, he said.
“I’ve been staying away,” Skrmetta said. “I’ve been wearing a mask whenever we’re supposed to — so I felt like I was doing pretty good.”
The SHC advises students who are asymptomatic to get another test to uphold the results of the first, Larson wrote, but it is not a policy the school has.
“While false positive cases can occur, they are not common, especially when an individual also has illness symptoms and/or a recent exposure to a case,” Larson wrote. “I do recommend that anyone with a positive antigen test who does not have symptoms or a recent exposure (e.g., if they obtained an antigen test for an event but have no risk factors for infection) obtain a PCR confirmatory test. This test needs to be done the same day as the antigen test.”
Junior Alisha Harris is fully vaccinated and became exposed to COVID-19 by her boyfriend, who tested positive the day she had been in close contact with him, she said. Harris said she was not contacted by the school to alert her of being a close contact until a week after he received his positive test.
“If I didn’t know that he got it, then I wouldn’t have known for a while,” Harris said. “I got an email, and I was like, ‘Oh, my five days are already up, and now they are emailing me?’”
Because her boyfriend alerted her of his positive test result, Harris decided to quarantine in her dorm room for five days and took initiative to email her professors and get retested. Harris said she wished the guidance was clearer from both the residential staff and the SHC.
Larson wrote vaccinated students exposed to COVID-19 must get a professionally administered test three to five days later to confirm they did not contract the virus. During that time, she wrote they must do a modified quarantine, which includes attending classes and getting meals but prohibits in-person participation in clubs or recreational activities anywhere on or off campus.
Carpenter said she was moved from the Mt. Crags Conference Center to the Villa after the SHC mistakenly told her and her roommate that the close contact who put them into quarantine had a false positive.
After Carpenter’s roommate went back to campus with a friend who picked her up from the conference center, Carpenter said they got a call from the University saying the close contact was a true positive, and Carpenter and her roommate should remain in quarantine — prompting her roommate back into quarantine despite attending classes all day.
“They gave us each $100 DoorDash gift cards, and they moved us to this nicer place,” Carpenter said. “So they did feel bad about it, and they tried to fix it as best as they could because they couldn’t take us out.”
First-year students Aidan Hulbert, Race Skrmetta, Christofer Duenas, Sam Chung and sophomore Ezra Hamilton were in a Rho isolation trailer together after testing positive for COVID-19 in early September. The students complained about the trailer being hot, and the housing department told them via email Sept. 7, that they would have to vacate for a repair person to enter.
The five students all said, however, they received another email Sept. 8, that a maintenance worker would be going inside the trailer and the students were not required to leave — only to put their masks on.
Thirty minutes later — to the surprise of all five students — someone wearing just a mask and a general custodian uniform walked into the enclosed trailer, without the typical hazmat suits medical transport and testing staff wore when in contact with them, students said. The man checked the broken air-conditioning units, which ended up not being repairable, possibly exposing himself to COVID-19, students said.
The SHC did not respond when asked how they handle situations where someone must enter an isolation facility for safety or wellness purposes.
Advice from Students and Staff
Quarantine and isolation is not fun, Zieg said. To smile and release anxiety, he said he began making TikToks documenting his experiences and meals, raking in hundreds — and sometimes over a thousand — views.
Carpenter said being alone for several days was a struggle, and when she realized her roommate was quarantined in the room next to hers, they began talking through the wall just to have a feel of human interaction.
Because quarantine is less restrictive for vaccinated students, Larson wrote, her advice is to get vaccinated.
“The best way to prepare is prevention,” Larson wrote. “While those getting COVID-19 still need to be isolated, those close contacts who are vaccinated do not need full quarantine. Obtaining COVID-19 vaccination will eliminate the need for full quarantine.”
Skrmetta said having an open line of communication with the RD on duty is important for people in quarantine and isolation.
Being alone or stuck in a small space for so many days can be mentally challenging, and Page said she advises students to reach out to the resources offered by the University for help.
“I would encourage them to know that they’re not alone,” Page said. “First of all, even though they’re in a room by themselves, to reach out to the RD who’s available to them, reach out to their triad or their RAs and SLAs from their regular location, and to their friends, set up Zoom calls.”
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