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Update 1/8: The University of Michigan has updated its COVID-19 dashboard to reflect an increase in quarantine housing availability. University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily that the increase reflects the University’s plan to house two students in two-bedroom quarantine housing spaces. Previously, each apartment housed only one student, regardless of how many bedrooms it had.
When LSA freshman Ruide Xu — who lives in South Quadrangle residence hall — tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, his first thought was to contact the quarantine housing hotline — only to be met with no response after multiple calls and emails.
“We doubted if (the University of Michigan) has (sic) enough quarantine housing,” Xu said. “It feels like they’ve got very bad communication and management there and people are getting really confused when they need help.”
Eventually, Xu said he was able to contact a representative from the U-M Division of Public Safety and Security but was informed that he was not on the quarantine housing list despite being enrolled as a student living on campus who tested positive for COVID-19. As of Friday evening, Xu has still not been relocated to the University’s quarantine and isolation housing and has been living in his dorm awaiting further instructions.
Similar to Xu, other U-M students who have tested positive for COVID-19 have also struggled to find Q&I housing in light of the recent surge in positive COVID-19 cases.
The increase in cases comes after the University announced they would be resuming in-person classes as scheduled on Jan. 5 despite calls for classes to be delayed or moved online for two weeks in response to the rapid spread of the omicron variant. Some instructors elected to e-pivot for the first two weeks of the semester. As of Friday, The University has reported 815 positive COVID-19 cases for the week of Jan. 1.
The updated Q&I policies exclude students living off campus from University-provided accommodations, according to Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon. In a Jan. 6 email to students, Harmon wrote students living off campus who contract COVID-19 should “remain in residence” or “relocate to another residence, such as a permanent residence” for the duration of the isolation period. Harmon also said Q&I housing was 11.5% occupied.
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily the University was anticipating an increase in demand for Q&I housing at the start of the semester and were thus prioritizing on-campus residents — a policy that, according to Fitzgerald, has been in place since last semester.
“With the start of the term and many students moving back into the residence halls, and anticipated increased need for isolation for on-campus residents, Q&I space is being prioritized for on-campus residents and not available to off-campus students at this time,” Fitzgerald wrote. “That approach has not changed from the fall term.”
In a separate email to The Daily, Fitzgerald provided additional resources for students who test positive for COVID-19, encouraging those who get tested off campus to report their results to the University.
“(Reporting positive tests) is the quickest, most effective way to get on the list for transfer to Q&I housing,” Fitzgerald said. “As our Student Life colleagues investigate some of these situations, they are finding that students are not uploading their test results.”
Students can report their positive COVID-19 test results here.
As of Jan. 7, Q&I housing occupancy is reported to be at 33.3% capacity. University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen wrote in an email to The Daily that Q&I housing data is updated every morning at 8:30 a.m., and students who move into housing after the data is posted are not included until the next day.
“It is not real time data,” Broekhuizen wrote. “As noted, Q&I is constantly moving students in, and out, each day. The numbers are always changing.”
LSA junior Kristina Wendling – who lives off-campus in a 10-person house – tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, the day before classes resumed. Wendling has been quarantined in her room since she has been unable to utilize University-provided accommodations and is unable to return to her permanent residence, creating an uncomfortable living situation with her nine roommates.
“Usually I’ll check everyone’s class schedules and see when the least amount of people are around and that’s when I’ll plan when I’m going to go make food or when I’m going to take a shower, things like that,” Wendling said.
Wendling said her roommates all attend in-person classes and while none have tested positive for COVID-19 yet, she’s concerned about putting her roommates and other students at risk.
“I just wish I could have gotten better help with the isolation housing because I’m just in a weird little bedroom here and I still share common spaces,” Wendling said. “So I’m just nervous.”
LSA senior Bella Karduck lives in an off-campus residence where she shares a room and multiple common areas with other students. After first testing positive for COVID-19 in December 2021, Karduck stayed in Q&I housing.
When Karduck tested positive with new symptoms on Jan. 3, she was denied University-provided accommodations and was told to reach out to the Dean of Students Office, which encouraged her to stay in her apartment.
“The response I got from The Dean of Students Office was ‘Omicron is mild and highly-transmissible. So you can clean and try the best you can so your roommates don’t get sick,’” Karduck said. “So I posted in the Facebook pages looking for a place to stay kind of out of desperation so I didn’t have to drive home.”
Karduck said she wishes the University offered more options for off-campus students who test positive for COVID-19 and can’t relocate to their permanent residence or isolate in their off-campus residences.
Resident Advisors also discussed students living in residence halls who struggled to obtain access to Q&I housing after testing positive for COVID-19, according to messages obtained by The Daily.
“A resident of mine came to me telling me that their roommate tested positive and when UHS finally got back to them, they told her that they had around a 300 call backlog and that Q&I housing is at capacity,” one message read.
Another message said Hall Directors had been directed to inform Resident Advisors to refrain from speaking to the media, particularly regarding housing-related issues. A Resident Advisor in another residence hall confirmed the information in a subsequent message.
A Resident Advisor who agreed to speak with The Daily on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional retaliation said the increase of COVID-19 cases in residence halls has made it difficult to continue with day-to-day RA duties. The Resident Advisor will be referred to as Charlie.
“It has kind of made me scared to go on duty,” Charlie said. “Specifically, just going to the bathroom because certain residents who have community bathrooms that have tested positive have not been taken to quarantine right away. One resident in particular has been (taken to quarantine) but it took more than 24 hours. A positive test was reported yesterday around 10 a.m., and they just got taken today at around 1 p.m.”
Charlie said their residents have elected to self-isolate when in close contact with a COVID-positive student despite University guidelines which do not require students with a COVID-19 booster shot who are asymptomatic to quarantine.
“I think that students are probably going to be suffering because they’re trying to be more responsible than the University is,” Charlie said.
Addressing circulating rumors of limited Q&I housing, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily about the current situation of Q&I housing.
“Q&I housing is not full,” Fitzgerald said. “Today we are at about 12 percent of a total capacity of more than 400 beds. And the university is working to increase that overall capacity. There are delays in responding to students who have tested positive, but on-campus students will be relocated to Q&I housing as soon as possible.”
The 12% referred to Thursday morning’s update. As of Friday, that number was revised to 35%.
Xu also said the safety policies in the dorm were loosely enforced, making him feel uncomfortable. Prior to the winter 2022 semester, students were not required to wear face masks in their own residence halls, including in common areas. In December, the policy shifted, requiring all students in residence halls to wear face masks through at least Jan. 17, regardless of vaccination status.
“In classes, I feel very safe because everybody wears masks,” Xu said. “I feel less safe in the campus housing because people are just not wearing masks when they should.”
Xu said because his roommate — who has not tested positive for COVID-19 — and himself are both unable to find alternative housing, they must coexist in their dorm room while wearing masks at all times except for sleeping.
During a RHA meeting on Thursday, members expressed concerns regarding COVID-19 positive students remaining in the dorms for extended periods of time after receiving a positive test result.
Members of the student body have also taken to social media to share their difficulties with being transferred to Q&I housing. Some students have said their MCards were frozen, denying them access to dining halls. Others have said that Q&I housing had forgotten to prepare meals for students in their residency. Broekhuizen denied both rumors of COVID-positive students’ MCards being frozen and that Q&I housing is forgetting to prepare meals for students.
LSA junior Isabel Rodriguez critiqued the administration’s approach to the Winter 2022 semester and said that it didn’t account for the stress it put on students.
“(They’re) just kind of saying, well, like ‘You guys can handle it. You’re young. You won’t get sick from it because you’re vaccinated’, which isn’t necessarily true,” Rodriguez said.
Though Rodriguez has not been diagnosed with COVID-19, she said she is concerned about students’ safety on campus in light of the updated Q&I policies and after noticing a lack of moderation of masks in University buildings.
“I definitely don’t feel safer,” Rodriguez said. “If anything, I feel disrespected overall by the administration.”
This article has been updated to include additional resources for students who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Daily Staff Reporter Anna Fifelski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lola Yang, Tate LaFrenier & Sammy Sussman contributed reporting.