How one student feels about being locked down in UNB's Magee House

·4 min read
Violet Eliza-Sioux James lives with asthma and says she's worried about getting COVID-19 during the outbreak in her residence at the University of New Brunswick. (Violet Eliza - image credit)
Violet Eliza-Sioux James lives with asthma and says she's worried about getting COVID-19 during the outbreak in her residence at the University of New Brunswick. (Violet Eliza - image credit)

Violet Eliza-Sioux James has been taping signs inside her apartment window, sharing what life has been like under the COVID-19 lockdown at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

James lives at Magee House, a student residence with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

"I knew that people were going to be driving by, looking in our windows," said the 23-year-old.

So James, her fiancé and their roommate, each claimed a window inside their UNB apartment to put up posters. The messages include: "No laundry," "Press welcome" and "We deserve care."

James said the posters represent how people are feeling inside the residence, which is for mature students and families.

"I understand how lockdowns are important and why they work but people in those lockdowns need to be safe," she said.

James alleged the university had restricted the students' access to emails and Microsoft Teams, a video chat program, but the university said this was never the case.

"UNB has not restricted email or Teams access to the students of Magee House and holds daily Teams meetings with them," spokesperson Heather Campbell said in a statement.

Sioux James has been taping posters on the inside her windows to let people know what life has been like living in isolation.
Sioux James has been taping posters on the inside her windows to let people know what life has been like living in isolation.(Violet Eliza-Sioux James)

James said she heard about the first case of COVID-19 at Magee House on Thursday night. A virtual meeting was held the following day with the residents to figure out how to tackle the issue and keep people safe.

Residents were encouraged to continue with their classes and go to work.

Then around 10 p.m. Saturday, they were told about a second case of the disease, and isolation went into effect immediately.

'An anxious wreck'

James is concerned about the lack of information UNB administrators are providing about the outbreak at Magee House, which has 101 apartment-style units, and where some tenants may have school-age children.

"Residents are now worried about our own safety within the walls instead of just worried about the safety of viral contagion."

The isolation was expected to last three days but has been extended to May 8 — information that was only relayed to students on Tuesday.

Another sign inside James's apartment to show how residents are being treated while in isolation at Magee House.
Another sign inside James's apartment to show how residents are being treated while in isolation at Magee House.(Violet Eliza-Sioux James)

"I've been an anxious wreck since it was announced," said James, an honours student in environmental science.

She said she has asthma and her fiancé has a brain tumour.

"If either of us gets this, it could be deadly for us," said the Ontario student.

Living without food

James said she's been stuck with three large piles of laundry and three clean shirts to last her until her isolation period is done.

Some residents are without groceries, and the cost of ordering takeout could get expensive for students, she said.

Students were able to get garbage pickup on Tuesday. James said Tuesday was also the first time she saw cleaning crews inside the building.

"We're not begging to go out to bars," she said. " … Right now we're currently begging for laundry services and for food."

She said some residents are pregnant or have young families.

Outbreak is travel-related

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell confirmed Tuesday, who has expressed concern about the transmission of three coronavirus variants now in the province, confirmed the UNB outbreak is travel-related but would not elaborate.

"Whether you travel outside of the province, in another area of this country, or another country, the variants are everywhere," she told reporters during the COVID briefing.

The University of New Brunswick said Public Health will contact anyone who is considered a close contact to the COVID-19 cases at Magee House and provide further direction.
The University of New Brunswick said Public Health will contact anyone who is considered a close contact to the COVID-19 cases at Magee House and provide further direction.(Google Street View)

Public Health officials are "very concerned about the fact that this outbreak in Zone 3 [the Fredericton region] is a variant and it's the India variant that we're very, very concerned about in terms of being very, very, very aggressive in terms of being contagious and causing more severe symptoms," Russell said.

She would not say whether the case of the variant first recorded in India is at Magee House.

Department of Health and UNB officials would not say either.

Living in close proximity

Although they're in isolation, James said students are still living in close proximity to one another and the hallways are narrower than two metres.

Family members and staff of Magee House were tested Sunday afternoon. More tests are expected Wednesday.

She's been wiping down her apartment with Lysol and opening the windows to get fresh air, while trying to focus on her year-end exams and assignments.

"I'm still trying to navigate how to actually focus on my end-of-year assignments and end-of-year exams."