By Frida Gomez/El Inde
The camera focuses on a small, wide-eyed blonde as she fiddles with something in front of her, waiting for her audio to connect for our Zoom call. In her background, there is a pastel pink tapestry with deep green palm leaves. The rest of the walls are painted white. The girl in the camera shifts around for a minute before finally unmuting herself. Malyssa Martin introduces herself as a junior attending her first year at the University of Arizona, pursuing a double major in Law and Political Science.
Martin is originally from Tucson and used to visit home often, but that was before her roommates tested positive for the coronavirus. “Everyone is positive except for me,” she stated. Martin has also been diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks healthy tissues instead of body infections. Living with four COVID-19 positive roommates means that going home is not an option for Martin at the moment.
The problems in Martin’s apartment began when her roommates first had a person over who was COVID-19 positive. “I found out the day after that person came over that they had COVID,” Martin explained. “[Roommates] told me, but they knew before apparently. They told me after the fact.”
Martin’s lupus makes her more vulnerable to the virus, so she’s been taking extra precautions to keep herself safe in her apartment. “I haven’t gone in my living room or kitchen because they’re always in there,” Martin said. “I’ve just been in my bedroom for basically a week.”
Martin lives at the Urbane Apartment Complex in Tucson. Her five-bedroom, three-bath apartment has a floor plan that sets up the single room and connecting bathroom aside from the other four rooms and two bathrooms that go down a separate hallway. Martin is taking up residence in the single bedroom with a connected bathroom, while the rest of the house lives just down the hall.
“Shortly after moving in, they told me that they had someone who was COVID-19 positive over in our apartment,” Martin said, frantically gesturing to the space around her. Martin said she had sat the entire house down and explained to them that her condition made her more vulnerable to the coronavirus, explaining how that was a concern for her.
The other four residing roommates in Martin’s five-bedroom apartment are better acquainted with each other than they are with her. The four had known each other for some time before they all moved in together. Martin was placed into the apartment with the rest of them by random assignment.
Martin thought that by communicating her feelings to her roommates about how uncomfortable she was with their lack of virus precautions, it would persuade them to be more considerate of her health condition. But after failing to change their minds about their behavior and being told that college was supposed to be a time for parties, Martin was not left comforted. “I got really upset and it made me really scared,” she said. Martin immediately called her dad. His response was, “Thank God you’re not sharing a bathroom right now.”
Her relationship with her father has always been a close one. She makes sure to keep in touch by calling him every day. “My mom passed away a year ago, so it’s kind of just us now,” she said.
Father and daughter tried to figure out what would be the best thing to do — for both of them. Yet there was not much that they could do. Martin’s dad reminded her that she was stuck in the lease, which she’d signed October last year, well before anyone knew what a coronavirus was, let alone what COVID stood for.
Much like other college students, Martin decided to get an apartment for the convenience of staying close to campus But Martin is also legally blind. She relies on her father for transportation and when she used to drive to school from home, it was a 40-minute commute. Martin also took night classes, which made it difficult for her dad since he cannot see the roads very well at night. “I can just walk to campus and I don’t have to rely on him anymore,” she said.
Martin started the fall semester with her classes listed as a flex-in student. This kind of schedule meant she had signed up to spend more time attending online lectures than attending in-person classes. This limited Martin’s exposure to people who could potentially carry and spread the virus. Even so, Martin said she has had no in-person classes this semester, her professors having solely used Zoom for classes.
“But I’m still stuck here because paying for an apartment and not being in it is just something my dad thinks I should not do,” Martin said.
But the problems didn’t end there. One day this fall, Martin’s roommates hosted twenty to thirty people in the apartment for a party. “I was in my room and I peeked out the door because I just heard all of these people coming in.” One by one Martin said she heard the guests as they filed into the apartment. “I did not know there was going to be a party and no one was wearing masks,” she recalled. So, Martin made her decision and stayed behind her bedroom door, while everyone attending the party on the other side made their own decisions too.
It was after this gathering that her roommates all tested positive for the coronavirus. Following their positive results, the University of Arizona announced a shelter in place order that began on September 14.
In an ironic turn of events, Martin’s roommates would then be forced to take precautions and quarantine in their apartment. And even as they quarantine, Martin doesn’t feel any more comfortable about going into the living spaces and the kitchen in her apartment.
Quarantining alone poses problems by itself, but isolating with an autoimmune disease in a COVID positive space is Martin’s harsh reality at the moment. “I feel like there is no ideal situation when there are [COVID] positive people living in the same place as someone with a compromised immune system,” she said.
She misses going out and is counting down the days until the week is up and she can have more room than just her bedroom or her bathroom. Being isolated within the four walls of her room for so long Martin mentions that avoiding depression is her biggest challenge at the moment. Even so, Martin pushes through and keeps herself active by doing crunches, sit-ups, and yoga within the space of the bedroom. “I don’t like being confined,” Martin laughs, “I’m doing my best.”