Courtesy of Talat Aman

When Yale students test positive for COVID-19, they can expect to eat anything from frozen chicken to military-grade sealed meals to $75 worth of UberEats.

As the University community grapples with a spike in undergraduate COVID-19 cases, an increasing number of students are reporting discrepancies in the meal options offered to them when they enter isolation. The News spoke to eight students who have isolated in the past two weeks, four of whom were assigned to McClellan Hall and four of whom isolated in their single bedrooms. Students described experiences with isolation housing meals ranging from receiving food meant for someone else to not receiving food at all, with no two students’ experiences exactly resembling each other.

“[Some] days I would only get a warm meal for lunch, a tiny portion of microwaveable mac and cheese or lasagna for dinner and some cereal and a granola bar for breakfast,” Isabella Hay ’24 said. “Other days, I got multiple warm meals in to-go boxes or multiple microwaveable meals, so I was never sure how much food I would have.”

Yale’s official policies regarding food for those in isolation have changed in recent weeks, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd said. There used to be a “limited menu” from which isolating students could pick specific meals, Boyd explained, but now students who test positive receive an email from Yale Hospitality at the beginning of their isolation period seeking information about dietary restrictions and special requests. Meals for isolating students are prepared from a rotating menu, which “provides more variety from day to day,” Boyd wrote.

Some students had concerns about the volume of University-prepared isolation food. Conrad Lee ’25 told the News that as a varsity athlete, he worried that the meals provided while he was in McClellan Hall failed to meet his daily caloric needs. Lee, who is a goalkeeper for the varsity men’s soccer team, reached out to the isolation housing team to express his qualms but did not receive a response. 

Multiple students emphasized that their requests for meals adhering to dietary preferences or restrictions were largely honored.

Carigan McGuinn ’25, who is vegan, said that she appreciated that her dietary preferences were accommodated throughout her isolation period. After making the request, she received non-dairy milk and extra snacks in her meal bag every day, she said. Hay also noted that her request for gluten-free meals appeared to be “very carefully honored,” which she expressed gratitude for.

Boyd said that coordinating meals for students isolating in their residential colleges has been “more challenging” than in Arnold and McClellan, citing the increase in delivery sites and the lag time between a student’s positive test result and their assignment to an isolation location, which sometimes makes it difficult to guarantee delivery for the next meal. 

Boyd told the News that beginning on Feb. 16, her office implemented a new protocol under which all COVID-positive on-campus students are issued GrubHub vouchers for the first 24 hours of their isolation, regardless of whether they are isolating in-suite or in Arnold or McClellan Halls. Vouchers are distributed four times daily “to ensure that no-one goes hungry at a mealtime,” Boyd said, with Yale employees working overtime to issue the vouchers. Boyd clarified that the University has distributed both GrubHub and UberEats vouchers.

According to the Yale COVID-19 data dashboard, 175 on-campus undergraduates tested positive between Feb. 17 and 21. The $75 GrubHub vouchers handed out for day one of isolation for that cohort of students alone was worth $13,125.

“This has been expensive, but it was the most straightforward method to ensure that students were able to get food within a few hours of their positive test results,” Boyd said.

But Hay told the News that when she received a positive test result early on a weekday morning, the isolation housing team member who called her with instructions said that the University would not provide meal delivery until midday the following day. Though instructed to immediately begin isolating in her Berkeley single, Hay was expected to supply food for herself for her first 30 hours in isolation, relying on her personal funds to order meals and the generosity of COVID-negative friends to deliver them. 

Hay said that while she had heard of the University providing other students isolating on campus with UberEats or GrubHub credits in lieu of meal delivery the day of their positive result, this option was not offered to her, despite receiving her positive result the day the policy was enacted. 

Boyd clarified that Hay’s situation did not reflect University policy.

“When we began isolation in place, we ran into unexpected challenges in identifying which students would move into isolation housing and which would stay,” Boyd explained.

Lawrence Wang ’23 said that on his first day of in-suite isolation, he did not receive his GrubHub voucher because of a technical issue with the platform. After reporting the situation, the isolation housing team provided Wang with two $30 UberEats vouchers for his first two days of isolation and then added his GrubHub voucher once the glitch had been resolved.

According to Natalie Luong ’24, when they tested positive, the isolation housing team instructed them to isolate in their single room in Pauli Murray College and provided them with a $75 GrubHub voucher for the day. But because Luong received her isolate-in-place instructions after 6 p.m., she was also directed to retrieve her own isolation kit from a room near the dining hall. Upon receiving the kit, Luong discovered that it included MREs, or Meals, Ready-To-Eat. 

Courtesy of Natalie Luong

MREs are individually-packaged rations that can be heated up without a stove or fire. Originally designed for the United States military to consume during combat, each MRE contains roughly 1,250 calories. According to Delish, some servicemembers joke that the acronym stands for Meals, Rarely Edible.

“I was a little confused,” Luong said.

Boyd confirmed that Luong’s situation reflected University policy and that students who begin isolating in place in the evening are expected to pick up isolation kits right away, rather than waiting for the resumption of business hours. Boyd emphasized that positive students should don medical-grade masks provided by the residential colleges and avoid interacting with others while retrieving their kits.

“The first set of isolation kits, which was packed for the weekend of the blizzard, included a variety of MREs just to be on the safe side,” Boyd wrote. “We did not end up isolating in place that weekend but did not remove the meals from that set of kits.” 

Boyd clarified that students who received such kits had MREs included in addition to, rather than in lieu of, other meals. 

Luong, who has spent the duration of their isolation in Murray, said that after day one, meals have been delivered to their suite door in a bag between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily. The bag contains frozen to-go containers for lunch and dinner and snacks for the next day’s breakfast, Luong said.

According to Boyd, students isolating in their residential colleges can express their dietary preferences and restrictions to the hospitality team. That team coordinates with the residential college dining halls to package and deliver meals based on the various dining halls’ menus, which shift on a daily basis, Boyd said.

“They’re trying, which I can’t decide if it’s enough?” Luong said. “The food I receive in the drop-off bags are foods that they serve in the dining halls, except frozen, so I just make sure none of my suitemates are in the common room when I have to use the microwave. Granted, for students isolating that don’t have access to a microwave, I can’t begin to imagine what they would do.”

Boyd clarified that Yale’s facilities team delivers an isolation kit, a HEPA filtration fan and a microwave to students isolating in place if they do not possess one already.

Juan Diego Casallas Otalora ’23 had a more positive experience with meals in in-suite isolation. Casallas, who spent his isolation period in his single in Timothy Dwight College, said that his experience “wasn’t too bad,” noting that he could tell his meals had been freshly made each morning in the TD dining hall and that the lunch provided matched the entree listed on the dining hall’s menu. The provided dinners diverged from the listed entrees, he said, and the meals’ varying quality caused him to occasionally opt for an UberEats order instead. 

Still, Casallas said that he “got comfort that [his] situation was better than those in isolation housing.” 

“They would also provide us with so many snacks and since each food delivery came once in the morning, the snacks kept piling up and up to the point that I probably have potato chips that will last me the whole semester,” Casallas said. 

Danielle Shapiro, the managing director of catering for Yale Hospitality, told the News that the hospitality team is currently preparing over 100 custom meals per day for isolating students in addition to the standard fare. 

For students isolating in Arnold and McClellan Halls, meal services come from the University’s Culinary Support Center, rather than directly from the dining halls. According to the isolation housing check-in instructions that Yale Conferences and Events provides to COVID-positive students, meal deliveries in McClellan are supposed to occur between 10 a.m. and noon every day. 

However, delivery confirmation emails provided to the News indicate that the delivery process did not begin until almost 1 p.m. on at least one occasion. Isabella Walther-Meade ’25, whose isolation room was on the first floor of McClellan Hall, said that students on higher floors received their daily deliveries even later than those on lower floors. 

Walther-Meade said that she and her isolation-housing roommate occasionally received a “mysterious third bag of food” in addition to daily deliveries for the occupants themselves. On the days when the third bag appeared, she said, it was labeled with their room number and addressed to a “Charlotte M.,” though no such student inhabited the room.

“Apologies to Charlotte M. if she was missing her food some days,” Walther-Meade said.

Shapiro wrote in a statement to the News that “students receive multiple meals per delivery, which at times requires additional packaging.” 

But Boyd emphasized that overall, the delivery services in McClellan and Arnold Halls seemed to be running smoothly, save for a few individual issues.

“To the best of my knowledge, the meal service in Arnold and McClellan has been working very smoothly,” Boyd wrote in a statement to the News. “[…] There have been occasional issues when students are distracted by all the challenges of learning they are positive, and thus do not read their arrival packet closely enough to know that they have that support so close at hand — still, most students do read the materials and know that they can reach out for additional food, toiletries, etc. as necessary.”

Off-campus students seem to have more autonomy over their isolation meals — and more financial support from the University.

Students who live off campus are asked to isolate in their own housing when they test positive. Boyd told the News that off-campus students who remain on a University meal plan receive GrubHub vouchers during the duration of isolation. Those who are not on a University meal plan are not eligible for the amenity.

While students isolating on campus can begin taking rapid antigen tests on day five and are released upon obtaining a negative result or after 10 days in isolation, students isolating off campus may leave isolation after seven days without a negative test result.

At $75 per day, the University is spending $525 per off-campus student on the meal plan who tests positive and must complete a weeklong isolation. 

Several students said that they do not believe the value of the daily meals provided to students isolating on campus is equivalent to the $75 vouchers.

“More days than not we ordered food delivery for dinner that we had to pay for out of pocket, so it’s frustrating to hear that students off campus were given compensation for food alternatives we did not have access to,” Betty Kubovy-Weiss ’25 said.

But while Boyd noted that the vouchers provide significant amounts of food, she also noted that there are ways for on-campus students to procure extra food from the University while in isolation.

“The $75 GrubHub vouchers are intentionally generous,” Boyd said. “Students isolating on campus have the ability to request larger portions if they wish, and we didn’t want anyone off campus to struggle to meet their dietary needs during isolation.”

398 undergraduate students tested positive for COVID-19 between Feb. 15 and Feb. 21.

Olivia Tucker covered student policy & affairs as a beat reporter in 2021-22. She previously served as an associate editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine and covered gender equity and diversity. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a senior in Davenport College majoring in English.