It was, admittedly, hard to resist. Four sophomores just recently back in Statesboro after summer break, roommates in a house near Georgia Southern University, wanted to have some friends over. With COVID-19 on their mind, they kept it small: They were a party of fewer than 10 people for dinner on a Friday night in mid-August.
By Monday, the first guest had tested positive for COVID-19. Within about 10 days, the roommates and all guests had either tested positive or were quarantined because they were at the house that night.
“A bunch of us woke up with symptoms on the same day,” says Memory Kate Gooden of Waynesboro. “We were in such close contact that of course we all had it.”
Abbigail Adams, also of Waynesboro, was the first roommate to test positive, and she went home to stay with her family in an attempt not to infect the other three roommates. She quarantined there for three weeks while the other three roommates — Memory Kate, Gayla Landing and Rylee Cook, both of Millen — quarantined in their house in Statesboro for more than two weeks.
While several of the young women lost their sense of taste and smell, all had mild cases of COVID-19 and no family members contracted the virus through contact with them. As they quarantined, the virus raged through the Georgia Southern campus, which at the time was in the red zone for the high number of cases on campus.
While the number of cases is declining, Georgia Southern was not alone in the high number of cases reported on its campus. Other schools across the state and the country experienced outbreaks of 500 or more cases.
“We felt like we did the right thing with a small party, but we now know how quickly it spreads,” says Gayla. “People need to take this seriously and stay quarantined.”
Taking the virus seriously is even more important now as the twin threats of COVID-19 and the flu loom around the country. It’s a message hammered home in a letter to students by Melvin Konner, M.D., Ph.D., who teaches anthropology and behavioral biology at Emory University:
“Don’t be among the college students who have already played a large role in starting the second wave. Don’t go to parties or mix in crowds. Keep your distance even in small groups, even in pairs, unless you have quarantined together. Wear a mask wherever you may encounter other people. Wash your hands for a count of twenty frequently. Get a flu shot or risk getting and spreading both infections at once.
We will get through this, and as I have said before, if you do the right thing you will live to brag to your children and grandchildren about how you survived and how you protected others. Your stories will help them get ready for anything, because they will learn how you were ready for this.”
For Georgia Southern student Rylee, her experience with COVID-19 was mild and manageable, but she watched her grandparents struggle dramatically with the virus in Hopkinsville, KY.
“For us, it was probably better that we all got it at the same time,” Rylee says. “It was pretty unavoidable that we were going to get it, and we’re lucky that we’re young and were not affected too much by the virus. But that’s not true for everyone, and we all need to be careful.”
That’s a sentiment shared by all four roommates.
“Nobody is completely isolated, ever,” says Abbigail. “You go out to the grocery store, and other places, and you never know whose Grandma you’re going to expose to the virus.”