COVID@College: Portia from UMass Boston

By Selin Tukel and Teehan McGinness, Posted February 22nd, 2021

Video by Teehan McGinness

What is your name, university, and year?

Portia McDonald

“My name is Portia McDonald, I am a junior nursing student at UMass Boston.”

What course of action has your university chosen to take regarding COVID-19? How do you feel about this?

“UMass Boston is fully remote except maybe 15 or 16 labs, 13 of those are the nursing labs that are held on campus. Along with the nursing program, they are allowing students to go in person for clinicals, and that varies depending on the hospital. Some hospitals like Southshore Hospital and Boston Medical center where they only allow three clinical students every other week. Mass General is allowing seven clinical students in a group. That is less UMass Boston’s decision but instead is what the hospitals wanted and what the state would allow. When we are on campus and have to go to labs we all have to be six feet apart, wear masks, and we get a symptom screening survey every morning. I believe we get it and the freshman living in dorms get it where we have to check off if we have had any symptoms and if we check yes for any of them, University Health Services calls us.”

Do you personally agree with this stance?

“In regard to testing, we are really lacking. At first, only freshmen were tested, but the dorms are really small and there are not as many students in the dorms. They could schedule a test but they didn’t have to be tested. And then they started to allow the off-campus students to be tested only recently. A few weeks ago when I was at work, and I worked with COVID patients, I honestly was a little sweaty and convinced myself that I had a fever. I called the university service health line and explained my situation and since I am working with COVID patients I wanted to get tested for my peace of mind. They called me the next morning and they said that they usually don’t test for asymptomatic students, but they said they could see if they could get me in for the on-campus testing and if not I could be referred somewhere in Boston at another testing site. It ended up working out and I got a test the next week, but they are lacking. They only offer testing on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. The rest of the week you are out of luck and forced to go out in the city and get your own test. It is really unfortunate that there are so many more students off campus than on campus, so you would think that the off-campus would be able to get more resources. I know of some nursing students, they are getting symptoms and waiting for the test. Plus we have to be on campus for the labs, so you would think we should be getting tested multiple times a week. But they are really not doing that at all.”

“In regard to testing, we are really lacking.”

What is your living situation at your university? On-campus, off-campus, staying at home? What are the safety precautions being implemented?

“I live in an apartment right across from campus with my three roommates. We have to wear a mask in the building and they do elevator etiquette, so you are only supposed to share an elevator with people you live with. Since we all work in a healthcare setting, we try to not see people as often. While I am not really getting testing, we don’t have access to testing as much as we would like.”

How has this transition impacted your educational career? (Online, limited in-person classrooms, etc.) Will this impact your track to graduation and how has using online learning changed your educational experience? How do you feel about this?

Back in March when everything shut down, we lost at least two months of clinical skills that we were supposed to learn in the lab before we were able to start this semester. Last semester we learned about fundamentals like vital signs and sterile technique. We were supposed to learn more so that when we started this clinical semester we would be able to go in and immediately start. Because everything shut down we weren’t given that opportunity because we missed out on so much. When the nursing students first started we had to schedule a lab time with our clinical group and we had to essentially relearn all of that in two to three hours where normally it would have taken a month to learn. They kind of crammed it all in. I personally didn’t have this problem, but some people didn’t pass the first time or it took them a few weeks so that is one whole clinical they are missing and they are already behind. It’s unfortunate that some people are ahead of others but that is just because of circumstances we can’t control.

“It is hard to try and balance everything in the middle of a pandemic.”

What has been the most difficult aspect of your school’s transition?

“It is hard to try and balance everything in the middle of a pandemic. It is hard on every college student but I feel like I am also juggling my work and actively dealing with COVID patients so I always have that fear in the back of my mind. If I want to go into the city I hold back because I am afraid that I will just spread it. It is really frustrating to see all of the other college students partying every single weekend and not considering that we are in the middle of a pandemic. I feel like the entire time I have the small group of people that I see and I don’t see anyone outside of that. But I see people who are going to see different groups and those people are seeing other people and so on, and it really is not helping the spreading of COVID at all.”

How has COVID-19 impacted you/your family’s financial situation?

“It hasn’t really affected my step dad because he works outside in landscaping. My mom works for a medical technology company, and she goes to hospitals to sell products and give out information, but she also does customer service. Because of COVID, she isn’t able to really go to the hospitals as much anymore. A couple weeks ago my mom ended up going to a hospital, and she was set in the OR and scanned everything essentially. She was only allowed to be there for a certain amount of time, had to wear scrubs, a mask, and eye wear. Hospitals use so much equipment, so trying to do all of that work in a certain time was really stressful for her and this has been stressful for her in general since March.”

How has COVID-19 impacted your friendships/social life at school? Extracurriculars?

“I don’t have anything to do but sit in my apartment and do school work and then I go to work and come back. I know my roommates have those same feelings because we all just have the same routine every day. Before we weren’t like that and were very sociable people. Our school still offers meetings for clubs over Zoom. The fitness center was holding classes online over zoom for kickboxing and yoga and things like that. The student nurses association that I am part of, is holding all their meetings on Zoom. They have been doing fundraising and social events online, but they are having a tough time finding enough people to do it.

Do you see the situation at your university changing in the near future?

“I don’t think so. They sent out an email saying that they haven’t made any confirmed plans, but the spring semester will be very similar to the fall semester being mainly remote. Nothing is confirmed but I can only imagine it is going to be the same especially considering all the cases are going up.

“It is easy to feel like you are the only one struggling, but everyone is going through it.”

What would you recommend for students who are struggling to adjust to this new educational experience? Do you have any other personal stories you would like to share?

“Reach out to other people because it is not just you. Everyone is struggling with this, nobody likes Zoom classes. It is easy to feel like you are the only one struggling, but everyone is going through it. For me, between March and the beginning of August, I worked in a nursing home and they shut down visitors and anything from the outside. It is heartbreaking because these older people have not seen their families in months. You can do online visits but it really isn’t the same. Even for the COVID patients that I have taken care of at the hospital, hearing the stories. In the middle of the surge, all of my floor was COVID patients. Working in the nursing home was really sad because anyone coming from the hospital, they had to quarantine alone for 14 days. It is hard balancing them, lashing out the anger on you, and genuinely feeling bad for them because I know I wouldn’t want to quarantine for 14 days in a place that wasn’t my home and was a completely different environment. Some of them didn’t have visitors for years. On Father’s Day, our phones were ringing off the hook because the family was not able to visit.

“In other nursing homes, if one patient gets COVID, the entire home gets it because it spreads like wildfire. It is really frustrating to see everyone going out and partying, and seeing people say it only affects old people when I have taken care of 40-year-old patients who are bed-bound because of COVID. It is easy to brush it off but when you are working in the health care setting and seeing how people who aren’t sick working, it also takes a toll on you. Working at the hospital, during the surge, family members would be waiting outside for news about COVID patients. There had to have been times where they had to tell them that their family member passed away. You can’t say goodbye, it’s not something you would want to say over the phone. It’s heartbreaking.”

If you are interested in sharing your story, please contact Selin Tukel ( for more details.