College student with coronavirus stays busy with TikTok dances, echoes important reminder

Olivia McLaughlin is reminding people they "aren't invincible" to COVID-19.

March 23, 2020, 2:11 PM

With the spring semester for many U.S. college students studying abroad cut short due the novel coronavirus pandemic, one student who has since tested positive for COVID-19 wanted to repeat an important message for others.

Olivia McLaughlin, a 20-year-old student at the University of California-Berkeley who flew home to San Diego from Spain as the U.S. announced international travel restrictions, told ABC News that whether people have symptoms or not, they "don't need a test" to tell them how to behave during this time.

"I had barely any," she said of her symptoms in an interview for ABC News' daily afternoon program "Pandemic: What You Need to Know." "I only qualified for the testing because I was in contact with someone who tested positive. The only symptoms I had was a runny nose and a little bit of shortness of breath."

McLaughlin said people should "assume they have" COVID-19, echoing a message similar to that of many other people across the U.S., where diagnosed cases have surpassed 40,000.

"Had I never been tested, I would have never known. I would've been with family; been outside taking walks. If you have been in contact with someone who has it, you should just assume you have it and stay inside," McLaughlin said. "You aren't invincible. Even though I am fine, I don't want to risk infecting other people, older people [or] babies."

McLaughlin said she "woke up to chaos" in Madrid, Spain, when she first learned of the travel restrictions being implemented by the U.S. government.

"People were running around," she said. "We were all panicked because everyone had just found out about the travel ban and we thought we only had 30 hours to get home."

McLaughlin purchased a ticket and flew home the following day, on March 13. She recalled the airport being "crazy once we landed," with huge lines "of students who were returning from studying abroad."

But upon re-entry into the U.S., McLaughlin said that officials "didn't take my temperature or anything."

She said they didn't even ask her if she felt sick. "I thought it was because it was so early in the process," she said.

Now, since testing positive for COVID-19 on March 19, McLaughlin is self-quarantining in her room and taking the proper precautions to mitigate any risk of getting her family members sick.

"I do wish I could go outside and walk around, be with my family, play a board game with them," McLaughlin said. "I should be able to in about a week, but I wish I could take another test to make sure I am negative before doing that."

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Until then, McLaughlin said she feels "OK." She said she has school work and social media to stay connected and keep busy during the isolation period.

"I started making TikTok dances to pass the time. My friends at Berkley and I made a page where everyone can submit their quarantine dances," she said, referring to the social media platform, which has been abuzz with novel coronavirus-related content, including challenges and reminders for folks to stay at home. "I definitely notice that I get winded more than I usually do."

With her new reality, McLaughlin shared another important reminder.

"Just remember you aren't invincible. Assume you have it or your friend has it and keep your distance until they say otherwise," she said. "The biggest thing for me is having a positive attitude and to be thankful for this time to reflect."

McLaughlin's family has not reported any symptoms as of the time this was published.

ABC News' Ariane Nalty and Allston Segale contributed to this report.

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