Grace Biancofiore Oral History Interview


COVID-19 and East Carolina University Oral History Interview
Grace Biancofiore, Narrator
Emma Faulmann, Interviewer
April 13th, 2021 at Clement Hall, East Carolina University

EF: It is Tuesday, April 13th, 2021 at 11:15 am. This is Emma Faulmann conducting this interview and we are here at East Carolina University. This interview is being held over Zoom and me and my interviewee are both located in separate dorm rooms within Clement Hall. The proposed topic of this interview is to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students at East Carolina University during the Fall 2020 to Spring 2021 academic year. I will now turn it over to my interviewee, Grace Biancofiore, to introduce herself and her affiliation with East Carolina University.
GB: Hey, my name is Grace Biancofiore, and I'm a student in the Honors college at East Carolina University. I started my time as a student at ECU [East Carolina University] during Fall 2020 and I am currently in the second semester of my freshman year. I am majoring in exercise physiology with a minor in nutrition. In the future, I'm hoping to go to graduate school for physical therapy.
EF: Thank you for introducing yourself! Can you begin with discussing how you felt and how your life changed when COVID-19 first began impacting the public in the United States, around mid-March of 2020.
GB: When the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact my life I was a senior in high school. I remember the virus being discussed a lot during the beginning of March, however, nobody thought that this virus was going to have as large of an impact as it ended up having. Our last day of in-person school was on Friday, March 13th [2020], however, when we were in school that day, I had no idea that it would be my last day of high school forever. At first, we were told that we would only be out of school for two to three weeks but as cases continued to go up, our school year was cancelled for the rest of the year. I remember it being very hard to realize that we were never going to get the senior year that we had always looked forward to. I was going to miss my senior season of soccer, prom, and graduation and it was really hard for me not to be able to see any of my friends for months during lockdown, and we had to cancel the spring break trip which we had been planning. During this time, wearing masks, social distancing, and worrying about getting COVID became the new normal and it was hard to never know when the world was going to return to pre-pandemic normal. I also think that the transition to college was harder because we never had real closure during high school.
EF: When you began your first semester here at ECU [East Carolina University] during Fall 2020, were you living on campus?
GB: Yes. I was living in the Honors college dorm, which is Gateway East and is now called Ballard East.
EF: Can you discuss your experience living on campus during the Fall 2020 semester prior to the university's decision to close most of the dorms. What precautions were being taken against COVID?
GB: When I was living on campus during the Fall 2020 semester, I think it felt pretty close to a normal college experience but I don't think that many precautions were being taken for COVID. At the time, we had roommates and two of my friends actually got COVID-19 from their roommates. We also were not required to be tested for COVID-19 before we came to campus and there was no mandatory testing for students. Pretty much all the dining options throughout campus were open and well there was a take out option, students were also allowed to dine in. In the dorms, RA's [Resident Advisors] were very strict about making sure that everyone was wearing masks and that only a total of four people were allowed into a dorm room. ECU [East Carolina University] did not have the Rec Center and the pool open during the fall semester to prevent the spread of COVID. Overall, I had a pretty good experience while I was here during the fall semester because it felt close to normal, but since there were not many precautions against COVID, the number of cases went up very fast.
EF: How did you learn that the university had decided to close most of the dorms and send most students back home and how did you feel about this?
GB: So, I found out that ECU [East Carolina University] had decided to send most of the students home when I woke up one morning and saw multiple texts from my friends saying to check my email. I was really sad that when I found out because now I was losing both my senior year and my freshman year of college. But I was kind of expecting this because UNC [University of North Carolina] Chapel Hill had already decided to close most of its dorms and the number of cases on ECU's [East Carolina University] campus were really high. The email that they sent us gave us move out dates within the next week or so and said that students could only remain on campus if they had a reason to do so. This email was kind of misleading and confusing because at first they made it seem like you could only stay on campus if you had a medical reason, but a few days later we found out that students in the Honors college and other LLC's (Living Learning Communities) would be granted permission to stay on campus. By that time, I was already making plans to move out and had started packing my things. Other Honors students had already completely moved out and were back home by the time they found this out. This was frustrating to me because I was already upset that I had to move out, but the options were not
clearly communicated to me. I likely would have stayed on campus if I knew of this option. Me and my friends were trying to make the most out of our last week there, but then we found out that one of the girls who we had gone running with in the morning had tested positive for COVID. We had to get tested for COVID, especially since we didn't want to bring it home to our families. Me and four of my other friends' tests all came back positive, which made this even more stressful because we were trying to figure out what to do.
EF: Can you explain your experience with testing positive for COVID, your symptoms, and how or where you quarantined?
GB: Yah. I got tested at the Student Health Center at ECU [East Carolina University]. It was a drive thru testing line and the testing process was really easy. When I got back from my test I already felt some symptoms of COVID including chills, headache, and a cough and I was also really tired. I talked to my mom on the phone, who is a nurse, and she said that there was a good chance that I would test positive, especially since I knew I had been exposed. We decided that it would be best for my parents to come pick me up and then I could quarantine at home. When they came, we took all of the precautions to make sure they wouldn't get sick. My parents wore masks and gloves, I also wore a mask, and we drove home in separate cars. When I was driving home, I got the call that I had tested positive. At this point, I had expected it to be positive, but it was still kind of scary to know that you actually have COVID and when I got home I quarantined in my room and the bathroom next to my room. I did not go anywhere else in the house and no one came into my room or the bathroom. My parents would drop off food and anything else I needed outside my door and during this time, I received calls from the ECU [East Carolina University] Health Center and the Mecklenburg County Health Department, which is where I live, discussing COVID-19 quarantine procedures and exposure risk. Thankfully, no one else in my house got COVID from me and after about ten days I finished my quarantine. I personally did not have really bad symptoms, for me it just felt like a bad cold for the first few days. I also did not have any after effects of COVID, but one of my friends who had it developed asthma and I also could not exercise as I normally would after my quarantine due to the possible heart issues.
EF: How did your online classes go during quarantine and did quarantine have an impact on your mental health?
GB: I don't think that being quarantined was hard for me because four or five of my other close friends were quarantined at the same time. Since we were all quarantined at the same time, I didn't feel like I was missing out on much and I was able to facetime my friends a lot because they were just as bored as I was. I did think that it was hard focusing on schoolwork during quarantine because I usually work in the library or in a study room so it was harder to get work done in my own room where there were a lot of distractions. It was also hard to have to sit inside for two weeks without being able to go outside at all and without being able to exercise.
EF: After your quarantine, did you decide to stay at home for the rest of the semester or did you move back on campus or to an apartment?
GB: I decided to stay at home for the rest of the semester. I didn't really think that I was ready to live in an apartment yet but I had already moved out of my dorm, so I thought that staying home would be the best decision. I stayed with my family who lives in Huntersville, North Carolina, which is right outside of Charlotte, and this also helped save money.
EF: What was your experience like living at home while doing online classes?
GB: It was a pretty big change doing online classes at home because I had gotten used to living on campus. It was also hard losing the freedom that I had just got when I had moved to college. I found it a lot harder to focus on doing my schoolwork when I was at home because I had to do all of my work inside the house because there was no library where I could work in. I also found it more stressful getting my work done after moving back home because I decided to start working again, and with my job I was working anywhere between seven to eleven hour shifts in the mornings and coming back home and trying to get all of my work finished. I wasn't working when I was living on campus so it was pretty challenging to handle both.
EF: Can you talk a little bit more about your job? What kind of work do you do and was your job impacted by the pandemic?
GB: I worked as a cold presser at Clean Juice Birkdale. This is an all-organic juice smoothie bar but we also have salads, wraps, and cleanses, which is my expertise. I would arrive early in the morning four or five days a week and not leave until the late afternoon after I finished pressing, bottling, and labeling all of the juices that we sell in our cleanses. My entire job was working in the back room so I never had any contact with customers. Therefore, often other than having to wear a mask, my job specifically was not impacted by COVID-19. However, there was a much larger demand for cleanses than usual, explaining the large amount of hours and that could be attributed to everyone being home and in a pandemic. I made wellness shots as well, which I could not keep stocked on the shelves. To put it in perspective, I would bottle forty shots one day and they would be gone the next day I came in.
EF: When ECU [East Carolina University] offered students the option to move back to campus for spring semester for 2021, did you decide to move back to campus or to stay at home?
GB: I decided to move back to campus and I'm currently still living on campus right now. Honors students usually live in Gateway or Ballard East but since those rooms were filled with the students who remained on campus during the fall, I live in Clement Hall.
EF: How is your experience living on campus for the Spring 2021 semester? What has changed from the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester?
GB: After having to send us home during the fall semester, ECU [East Carolina University] took a lot more precautions against COVID when we came back for the spring semester. Before we even got to campus, we had to get tested and submit proof of a negative COVID test. We also do not have roommates this semester. I think that this has been really helpful in keeping cases low because last semester, a lot of people that I know got COVID from their roommate. The first three weeks, the restaurants and dining hall were only allowed for take out. After the first round of testing, where all students on campus were tested, the restaurants and dining hall allowed us to dine in. However, for this semester, about half of the restaurants on campus were closed and the West End dining hall was also closed. For me, this has been frustrating because I live on West End and it takes me a while to get food from Todd Dining Hall. I have also gotten kind of tired of the on-campus restaurant options since only a few of them are open and they're all kind of unhealthy options. Right now, a fourth of students living on campus get tested each week which means that everyone gets tested each month. If a student tests positive, the College Hill Suites are reserved for quarantining students. Another thing that has changed from fall semester is that the Rec Center and pool are open now and they have time slot reservations. Overall, I think that the precautions being taken this semester have made the number of cases much lower than during the fall.
EF: What is daily life for you like right now living on campus?
GB: Since I don't have a roommate this semester, I'm able to start my day whenever. I usually work out in the mornings and either go for a run or take a class at the Rec center. Now that the Rec center is back open, I'm able to register for these classes on an app on my phone.
Afterwards, I usually head to the library to get my work done because I focus the best there. I only have three out of eight classes that meet synchronously, so I'm able to make my schedule different from day to day. For lunch I either walk up to Todd Dining Hall or grab something from the Student Center when I don't have time to make the walk. I always get dinner with either my friends or my boyfriend and we usually walk up to the dining hall.
EF: How are your current classes going? Are all of your classes online?
GB: My classes are going pretty well, right now we are getting close to finals week so I am almost finished with the semester. I only have one in-person class, which is my chemistry lab class and in that class, we always wear our masks and we disinfect our work area and equipment before and after we finish the lab. I have two other classes that meet at a set time online. These classes are usually held over either Microsoft Teams or WebEx. It was definitely an adjustment
at first to have a class on these online platforms, but over the last year, I've gotten used to this. My other five classes are asynchronous, which means I'm able to work on them whenever works best for me. One thing that I've noticed this semester is that a lot of the professors have learned a lot more about teaching a class online. This semester, most of my professors set up the online modules in a more organized way that was easy to keep track of and provided calendars with due dates. A lot of my professors have also started having us use Lockdown Browser while we take our tests to make sure that students do not cheat. Something that has been difficult with learning online is meeting with professors if I do not understand a topic, however, most professors do have office hours and they're always excited to meet with their students.
EF: Are you involved in any student organizations, sports, or clubs? If so, has the pandemic affected them?
GB: I'm not involved in many student organizations or clubs right now um and I would kind of attribute that to COVID-19. I do volunteer at the ECU [East Carolina University] community elementary school on Friday mornings through reading buddies. I really wanted to get involved in more student organizations, but it has been much more difficult with COVID because I never got the chance to meet organizations and many of the organizations have to host their events online. I think this is part of the reason why it's been more difficult to make new friends this year because most of the events that are hosted are online. I think it's also more difficult because we don't have in person classes or roommates. I'm hoping that next year I'll be able to get more involved in student organizations and meet more people.
EF: You mentioned that you are now using technology to take many of your classes online, how else has technology played a role in your life during the pandemic?
GB: So, as I mentioned, technology has definitely played a huge role in the way I take my classes right now. Technology has also played a big role in keeping me connected with my friends and family, especially during March and April of 2020 when there was a stay at home order. Technology let me text and facetime my friends and family to keep me in touch, and we even had group facetime calls so that we could all talk to each other, since we couldn't actually hang out in-person. I also used technology a lot for entertainment and to stay in touch with people when I actually had COVID and was in quarantine. I also get a lot of news and learn about current events through my social media accounts.
EF: How do you feel about the ways that the media has covered the pandemic through social media and other outlets?
GB: I think that social media and the news have been really important to keeping the public informed of the pandemic and especially in a time when you can't go out and talk to others in
your community. However, I do think that there are a lot of issues with misinformation and bias in the news and social media. While I'm not very informed on this issue, I do think that this has been a problem in shaping the public's views, especially since the election [2020 presidential election] occurred alongside the pandemic.
EF: Have you received the COVID-19 vaccination yet? If so, did you receive it through ECU [East Carolina University]?
GB: I have received the first dose of my COVID-19 vaccination but I did not get it at ECU [East Carolina University]. My first dose was Pfizer and I got that vaccine at Walgreens about three weeks ago. I'm planning on getting my second dose next week. I know that currently ECU [East Carolina University] is also pushing for students to get vaccinated and they recently hosted a vaccine clinic with Vidant. I also know that ECU [East Carolina University] is currently only giving students the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
EF: Did you have any side effects from the vaccine?
GB: Right now, I've only gotten the first shot and the only side effect I had was that my arm was really sore. I'm nervous to get the second dose though because I've heard that the side effects are worse from the second dose. I've also heard that the side effects are worse for people who've already had COVID but I'm not sure if that is true.
EF: At the moment, what do you think that the Fall 2021 semester will look like?
GB: Right now, we are being told that ECU [East Carolina University] is trying to return to mostly in-person classes during the Fall 2021 semester. I signed up for classes two weeks ago and all but one of my classes are in-person. I'm hoping that in-person classes and vaccinations will allow campus to return to as close to normal as possible. I'm nervous about having this many in-person classes because I only took one in-person class this year, and I think it will be hard to adjust to being in in-person classes all day and managing my schedule around them. I am looking forward to campus hopefully returning as close to normal as possible though and I am hoping that I will be able to get more involved in campus and meet more people.
EF: Is there anything else you would like people to know?
GB: The only other thing I would add is I guess COVID-19 did and will take a lot from us, but I really don't think we will ever return to the normal life we had before. This is our new normal, and we, including myself, need to accept this and adapt moving forward.
EF: Thank you.

Grace Biancofiore Oral History Interview
This oral history was recorded as part of Dr. Karl Rodabaugh's spring 2021 HNRS 2011: COVID-19 and the History of Pandemics course. Grace Biancofiore was interviewed by Emma Faulmann.
April 07, 2021
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