Beth Mosch | Daily Trojan File Photo

When Catherine Chen found out she would have to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus, she freaked out a bit. After “pushing” enough clothes and toiletries to last a week in a backpack, Chen rode a scooter from his off-campus apartment to the USC hotel.

As part of USC’s efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus since resuming in-person instruction last fall, students like Chen have endured periods of isolation at the USC Hotel and, more recently, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The University is also housing students in isolation at an undisclosed third hotel, according to a student press briefing Wednesday with Director of Health Dr. Sarah Van Orman.

Chen, a junior majoring in play art and biological sciences, tested positive at the start of the fall semester through the University’s pop testing program. After receiving an email notifying him of a new post on his student health portal MySHR, Chen knew “something was wrong with the test.” Hours later, a phone call from Student Health informed her of her positive results and provided her with instructions for self-isolation, which Chen said she was happy to realize.

“[Student Health was] like, ‘Do you want to quarantine yourself at the hotel instead of where you are now?’ And I was like, ‘Okay, that’s great.’ Because I didn’t want to risk the people I lived with,” Chen said.

Only students living in on-campus halls of residence are required to submit to hotel isolation, Van Orman said during Wednesday’s briefing, and all hotel rooms are paid for by the University.

Based on when she started showing symptoms, Student Health ordered Chen to self-isolate at the hotel for seven days. Under current LA County Public Health Department guidelines followed by Student Health, a full isolation period is 10 days where day zero is the onset of symptoms or, for asymptomatic individuals, the date of their positive test. The isolation period can be shortened to end on day six with a negative antigen test.

Once she arrived at the hotel, Chen said the check-in process was completely “contactless”. She received an access code to a safe containing the key to her room, a menu of dishes and other information necessary for her stay. Chen also received an allowance of $70 a day to spend on room service and requested that drinking water be brought to his room by calling the front desk.

Overall, Chen said she was happy with her accommodation but struggled to attend classes.

“It was really comfortable,” Chen said. “I was alone because I couldn’t go see anyone and nobody could go see me. Classes were difficult because I think the teachers weren’t quite prepared to be hybrid at that time.

Hannah Lane, a young computer science student, shared similar sentiments about her stay at the USC hotel after her roommate contracted the coronavirus last February. As Lane lives in a former off-campus sorority house and shares communal facilities with around 30 other girls, it was recommended by Student Health that she self-isolate following her exposure to the virus.

“I had tested negative maybe a day or two before I left,” Lane said. “But I spoke to the health center again and again… There was no condition I could leave in, although I really tried.”

During her 10-day stay at the hotel, Lane found ways to entertain herself. She said she watched TV “a lot”, went “nocturnal” and even dyed her hair. Despite those distractions, Lane said, the isolation took a toll on her mental health.

“They did their best with it,” Lane said. “The food was good. It’s hard to complain. But just the thing itself really sucked, just being alone for 10 days. By day six, I just felt like I was going crazy.

When George Danzelaud, a first-year computer science and business student, tested positive for coronavirus last November, Student Health informed him that the USC Hotel had reached capacity, so he should self-isolate at the DoubleTree by Hilton. During the January 3 briefing, Van Orman said there is “adequate isolation capacity” and an undisclosed “contingency plan” in case hotels fill up.

Once his stay was arranged, Danzelaud said he should fill out a contact tracing form and notify Student Health of his symptoms. He took an Uber to the hotel, which is about 15 minutes from campus. Student Health asked Danzelaud to take extra care while driving by minimizing contact with the driver and car and using a double mask.

Food delivery at the Hilton varied slightly from the USC hotel, as Danzelaud received a $70 credit to use on DoorDash, which he said was “fantastic” and an “amazing feature.” Daily surveys were conducted through MySHR to monitor his symptoms and check on his mental health.

Danzelaud called the experience positive and said the stay was a welcome break from a “fast” first semester at university.

“I was never really bored,” Danzelaud said. “I felt like USC was watching over me, honestly. It could have been a lot worse.”

Students who test positive for coronavirus are exempt from the University’s pop testing program for 90 days after the date of their positive test.