COVID-19 and Schools

Universities See Quarantine, Isolation Spaces Begin to Fill

Many universities around the country have designated certain campus residence halls as temporary housing for students in coronavirus-related quarantine or isolation. And some universities are starting to see these spaces fill up quickly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines quarantine as keeping someone who might have been exposed to the virus away from others, while isolation means keeping someone who has been confirmed to be infected away from others.

As of Friday, Feb. 26, student isolation and quarantine housing at the University of Maryland, College Park was 82% full. The previous week, it was 54% full, a number that caused university officials to set up a “sequester-in-place” policy for on-campus students and suspend in-person classes for the week.

“The positive cases are by and large mostly coming from groups who are spending time in their pods with six or seven of their friends, feeling pretty comfortable, feeling like they know where everybody’s been,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Perillo. “They might have a meal together, distanced, but take their masks off. And that’s why we’re seeing the spread.”

Perillo also said that the university has “ample” space to use as isolation or quarantine housing, if necessary. She also said that space freed up this past weekend as potentially exposed students who continued to test negative ended their quarantine periods.

At Binghamton University in Vestal, N.Y., enough students have moved into quarantine or isolation housing to trigger some logistical changes on campus. Within the last week, one dorm (Old Digman Hall) has already been converted from quarantine housing to isolation housing. Old Digman Hall is now the third isolation residence hall on campus. One of three campus dining halls, the College-in-the-Woods Dining Center, has temporarily been closed and exclusively prepares food for students in quarantine or isolation.

“It should be noted that for every isolation case, through contact tracing, we identify additional students who have been exposed to the person who tested positive,” said Binghamton University Director of Residential Life Paola Mignone in an email. “This can result in two, three, four, or more students requiring quarantine housing for every exposure case identified.”

As old students are released from quarantine and new students move in, Mignone says that each room is “deep cleaned and sanitized” by appropriately trained staff. However, some students moving into isolation or quarantine call their new living quarters less than sanitary. From dried vomit splattered on the side of the toilet to food wrappers found under the bed, students are expressing concern that living in quarantine housing places them even further risk of exposure.

Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., expanded its quarantine and isolation spaces to include another dorm in early February. On Feb. 8, the university announced that Cabrini Hall would be used to house potentially infected students, and that current residents of Cabrini Hall were being located to Xavier Hall.

The university said in its statement, “We recognize the inconvenience this causes to those students. We greatly appreciate their additional flexibility and patience as we all continue to monitor and respond to the ever-changing circumstances caused by COVID-19.”

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning. He can be reached at [email protected].