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Sick Tok: BC Student Isolation Experience Goes Viral

When Sean Hanley checked into Boston College’s isolation housing after testing positive for COVID-19, he decided to document his experience on TikTok, a widely popular video platform, so that he could play his story back later and provide some entertainment and updates for his friends. 

After uploading his first video, the first-time user of the app was surprised when he woke up the next morning to discover that his account was public, and that his most viewed video had garnered more than 700 views. Though going viral was not Hanley’s intention, “as events started unfolding,” he said, he decided to continue sharing his story on the app. 

“It’s wild to me that people are watching that,” he said. “[But] I thought, ‘This is kind of interesting and might be kind of important … so let’s just roll with it.’”


Part 5 of my Boston College COVID disaster rant

♬ original sound – Quarantine Peen

Shortly after University Health Services notified Hanley, MCAS ’22,  that he had tested positive for COVID-19, a Residential Life employee called him to explain logistics for going to isolation housing. The employee said that Eagle Escort would transport Hanley to isolation housing and provided him with instructions on what to pack. 

Hanley said the ResLife employee also told him he faced allegations of breaking quarantine. The representative told him he was subject to “serious consequences,” though he did not provide any details. He asked Hanley if he had left the room “for anything out of the ordinary” while he was supposed to be in quarantine.

Hanley had in fact broken quarantine on two occasions—once to evacuate during a mandatory fire drill, he said, and again to receive his second COVID-19 test. Assuming that a mandatory fire drill and UHS-ordered COVID-19 test would count as reasonable reasons for leaving the room, Hanley said he did not think to mention the two instances to the employee.

“He was trying to get me to tell him what happened,” Hanley said. “I figured getting COVID tested wasn’t even on the radar, so I said no, that I didn’t leave the room for anything out of the ordinary.”

Hanley said that the same ResLife employee who called him also told him that the consequences for breaking quarantine might be worse because he had tested positive.

“I thought that was interesting because if I did something wrong, I should be punished for my actions, not whether or not I have this virus that I couldn’t control that I had,” Hanley said. “Obviously, it would be worse if I left the room, if I left quarantine, while positive, but that’s completely not how punishment should be made.”

Arey did not respond to an emailed question from The Heights about whether punishments are more severe for students who test positive.

Associate Vice President for the Office of Residential Life George Arey did not respond to a request for comment on Hanley’s situation and to emailed questions about what ResLife’s policies are for informing students of allegations against them.

 After his phone call with ResLife, Hanley sat in his room and waited for Eagle Escort to drive him to Hotel Boston. What ensued, as Hanley described it, was a “gigantic miscommunication that resulted in some wild things happening.”

Although Hanley refers to himself as a “guinea pig” of BC’s quarantine and isolation plan, he was adamant that he shared his experience with the BC community in the hopes that BC will use the feedback to improve.

“I know I have every right to be angry, and I certainly have been given my situation, but I’m choosing to stay level headed because I just want to help,” Hanley said. “I hope this interview, and the goofy videos that I’ve been posting can get into the hands of the right people.”

One of Hanley’s roommates in his eight-person suite tested positive for the coronavirus on Sept. 2.  The Office of Residential Life instructed him and his suitemates to quarantine for two weeks in their dorm room, informing them they would receive a test the following day. 

Hanley’s first test came back negative, but a second test on Sept. 9, a week after his quarantine began, showed he was positive for the coronavirus.

The nurse who informed him of his positive result, Hanley said, told him that ResLife would be contacting him with more information and that he would be required to isolate for 14 days because he was asymptomatic. He said other nurses he spoke to during daily check-in phone calls during his isolation period, conversely, told him he would only have to quarantine for 10 days since his positive test.

UHS did not answer why nurses would give different dates.

Director of University Health Services Doug Comeau told The Heights that it is standard for students who test positive to remain in isolation for 10 days, though it may change if a patient develops symptoms during isolation. 

While Hanley was in quarantine in his residence hall, he realized a simple but important need BC did not account for in its COVID-19 plans: laundry. The University did not provide students with any instructions for washing their clothes while they were supposed to be quarantining.

When Hanley asked the ResLife employee about what to do with his laundry, Hanley said that the employee told him to have a friend pick it up.

“I thought, ‘Why would I have a friend expose themselves to my dirty COVID clothes?’” Hanley said. “I was just a little amazed that there wasn’t a written down plan. … It’s just a simple thing that somehow nobody even thought to think of a solution for.”

Arey did not respond to The Heights’ emailed question about how students should do laundry while in quarantine and isolation.


Part 6 of my Boston College COVID disaster rant

♬ original sound - Quarantine Peen

Sean Hanley was quarantined in Hotel Boston in September. (Ikram Ali / Heights Editor)

Eagle Escort transported Hanley to Hotel Boston on Sept. 10, he said. Once alone in his room, the gravity of the past few hours began to sink in.

“I just kind of sat here not knowing what to do,” he said.

A few hours later, Hanley said, a man knocked at his door with a letter of summary suspension for violations of quarantine, and then said “I shouldn’t do this” before crossing into the doorway to sit in a chair in the corner of Hanley’s room.

“I thought I did something wrong by letting him in, I thought like, ‘Shoot, I shouldn’t have done that,’” Hanley said. “We both wore masks and stayed distant, if that means anything. … But obviously it was a mistake on his part.”

Hanley reenacted the encounter in a TikTok.


Part 8 of my Boston College COVID disaster rant

♬ original sound - Quarantine Peen

When asked about the encounter, Director Student Conduct Corey Kelly told The Heights in an email that while she cannot comment on specific cases, “summary suspensions are generally delivered in person and the appropriate protocols are followed.”

Hanley said the man didn’t have all the details on Hanley’s specific case, but he did explain that the suspension was just until Hanley’s hearing with the conduct board. The suspension was not a disciplinary matter, Hanley was told, but was issued because they believed Hanley was threatening the safety of the BC community.

The notice said Hanley was “summarily suspended” until he had a hearing with the conduct board because he had broken his required quarantine “by leaving the room and having guests in the room.” The notice said that, during the suspension, Hanley was expected not to enter any University buildings or participate in University-sponsored events.

“This incident may have threaten/intimidate members of the Boston College community, which has been deemed by University standards and authority to present a potentially serious threat to the safety and well-being of the campus community,” the notice reads.

“[BC] chose to use this heavy hand of punishment, I don’t know if to set an example, or whatnot, but it just simply didn’t have to go there,” Hanley said. “I don’t know why they chose to bring it to that. 

In an email to The Heights, Kelly said that a summary suspension is not a disciplinary sanction.

“It is an interim administrative action that is intended to protect the University community until the matter can be investigated and adjudicated,” she said.

Kelly also said that procedures for violations for University COVID-19 protocols have varied.

“Whether summary suspensions are utilized for violations of the Eagles Care Pledge or the Housing Addendum, depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case,” Kelly said. “Some cases have resulted in summary suspensions and others have not.” 

The following Friday, Hanley had a meeting over Google Meet with a representative from the Office of Student Conduct, who told him that a maintenance employee had reported that they saw someone enter Hanley’s dorm room while he was supposed to be in quarantine. She also said that the Conduct Board and ResLife had verified that Hanley had punched in and out of the building on two occasions via electronic records of EagleID card swipes.

When asked whether the Office of Student Conduct uses records of students’ ID swipes or employee testimonies to determine if students have violated quarantine, Kelly said that “quarantine violations are determined in the same way as other types of conduct violations, based on the information available.” 

“The conduct process utilizes any evidence that is made available to us,” she said.

Hanley explained that he had left his room for a fire drill and for a second COVID-19 test, which he said was fact-checked by a conduct employee who said she would contact him with more information.

Hanley received a follow-up email from the conduct employee who conducted his hearing saying that the incident would not be included on his student conduct record.

While the views on his videos climbed, Hanley was surprised to find that some users left comments on some of his videos telling him he deserved the suspension for having broken the University’s rules, despite the fact that he cleared his name in other videos.


Part 5 of my Boston College COVID disaster rant

♬ original sound - Quarantine Peen

“They were ignorant, just not aware,” Hanley said. “I guess that’s the one most people saw, they didn’t look at all the other videos, which is understandable, but they only heard the part where I said I got suspended [and] just thought I broke the rules.”

Despite the nature of the situation, Hanley’s TikToks are riddled with comedic relief. 


Reply to @emilytrebour I wonder if my new friend will answer

♬ original sound - Quarantine Peen

“That was the goal, I wasn’t looking for sympathy, or people to tell me they were sorry for me,” Hanley said. 

Hanley did receive support in the comments on his videos, though, especially from a particular demographic, and found himself asking, “How did I get onto mom TikTok?” 

TikTok algorithms drew many mothers to Hanley’s audience. Many mothers began commenting they were sorry for him and that they sympathize with him because they have children in college, and some even offered to send him care packages. 

“I watched your whole story. I am sorry you are having to experience this. Sending prayers and positive vibes. Hugs,” one commenter wrote.

Other younger users commented saying that their mothers directed them to his page to virtually “keep him company” in the comments section.

“My mom just sent me your profile and told me to contact you and keep you company HAHAHHAHAH,” one commenter wrote.

University Health Services nurses contacted him each day to check in on him, Hanley said, and each time they asked him whether he was at home or in BC isolation housing. They also repeatedly asked him who he had been in contact with, even though he had been in isolation housing since he tested positive and had been quarantining in his residence hall beforehand.


Having a laugh while Health Services has no idea what’s going on 😁

♬ original sound – Quarantine Peen

In response to an emailed inquiry from The Heights, Comeau answered questions about the length of the isolation period and whether students are re-tested before leaving isolation housing, but not how UHS documents information on students who are supposed to be isolating.

Hanley left isolation housing on Sept. 20, 10 days after arriving.

Comeau said that isolation patients must be symptom-free for 24 hours prior to leaving isolation, but they are not re-tested again for 90 days, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. According to the CDC, if an individual is retested within three months of contracting COVID-19, they may receive a positive result even though they are not spreading the virus.

While in isolation, Hanley said his resident minister reached out, and though he did not need a meeting, he appreciated that the University is offering the resource for students.

Hanley is grateful that BC brought students back to campus, he said, but after his ordeal, he wishes he chose not to return.

“There’s no room for failure when you bring us back. And did BC fail me? Yeah, sure,” Hanley said. “But I hope that BC can use me as an example of what not to do moving forward.” 

Despite his experience, Hanley said he believes the problem within BC lies not with individuals, but with the broader disconnect across BC departments. 

“I’m super thankful for all the individuals, and all the people that are working very hard to keep us safe and healthy and on campus,” he said. “This is a crazy time for everybody. Nobody’s trained to lead a university in a pandemic and this hasn’t happened before. … There’s just this terrible disconnect everywhere that needs to get figured it out.”

Since arriving back to campus, Hanley says he sometimes picks up on whispers of students asking each other if that’s “the quarantine TikTok kid” when he walks by.

“I feel like people look at me when I go through campus … but nobody’s really come up to me, so that’s probably a good thing,” he said.

Hanley said he hopes the school can use him as an example of what not to do moving forward.

“As long as there are no students that have to go through what I went through or deal with any sort of stresses like me, I’ll chalk that up as a win for the school,” he said.

Featured Image by Ally Mozeliak / Heights Editor

October 7, 2020