Dominick Sokotoff/Daily.  Buy this photo. Dominick Sokotoff/Daily.  Buy this photo.

Like other businesses, the high-rise apartments in Ann Arbor that many University of Michigan students call home have had to adapt to the public health guidelines prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released protocols for shared or communal housing situations to help mitigate the spread of the virus. These practices include wearing masks in shared spaces, encouraging social distancing by staying six feet apart, frequent cleaning and minimizing traffic in shared elevators by limiting the number of people who can use them at one time.

Engineering and Business sophomore Saranya Nistala moved into a four-person unit in University Towers, a popular off-campus housing option for students who want to live near Central Campus. She said the move-in process in particular was concerning given the density of people moving in at once, noting that some of the precautions for social distancing were loosely enforced.

“I personally haven’t really left my apartment itself very much,” Nistala said. “I know move-in was super crowded because there was just a huge line for the elevators, and everyone was pretty close together at the entrance of the building. But after that first weekend, I don’t think there’s been any sort of congregation of people in any of the public spaces I’ve been to in the apartment.”

Bill Spencer, University Towers general manager, said in an email to The Daily the apartment building tried to implement changes to the move-in process to help minimize the number of people in the lobby at once.

“We had many changes to our standard move-in process in comparison to pre-COVID-19,” Spencer wrote. “We limited the amount of people allowed in the lobby – specifically we asked the tenant to check in while the family waited outside. We provided movers to help transport items directly to the apartments. We provided specific move-in time periods. And we asked for the support of everyone to observe proper social distancing. We made our best attempts at limiting any possible contact. And we learned some very good lessons for moving forward.”

Business sophomore Mahi Kishore moved into a six-person unit at Landmark Apartments. She echoed similar concerns about heavily used elevators, and she also noted some units will host parties in their own apartment spaces, drawing more people to the building. Kishore said this isn’t a huge concern, though, given that the gatherings are in their respective units.

“I would say that even though they have their five-person rule to elevators, people don’t always abide by it,” Kishore said. “So sometimes it can be a bit crowded, and I mean people do I guess have parties and stuff within their own apartments, but it’s usually within their own respective apartment so it doesn’t really affect anyone else.” 

Kishore said her apartment complex told tenants that they would not necessarily notify them if another tenant tested positive for COVID-19, making her feel worried about potentially coming in and out of spaces where the virus could have been. 

“The apartment building did send out a notice and they said that if anyone does have COVID in our building, they won’t notify us because legally they don’t have to,” Kishore said. “I wasn’t exactly comfortable with that, but I haven’t had any issues with COVID so far.”

The Daily reached out to Landmark Apartments for comment multiple times but did not hear back prior to publication. 

Based on CDC guidelines, residents are not required to notify housing administrators if they test positive for COVID-19. However, if a landlord learns of a positive case, the CDC recommends they work with local health departments to notify anyone in the building who may have been in contact with the case. Confidentiality must be maintained throughout this process.

Spencer said if University Towers were notified of positive cases from either tenants or staff members, the protocol is to quarantine and then “inform and decide what next steps to take.”

“If we were informed by a tenant of a positive COVID-19 test, we would require a quarantine period. (We ) would discuss with other members of the apartment and of the general community,” Spencer wrote. “We would also follow guidelines of reporting as required by the Health Department.”

Some apartments like YOUnion have provided further details on COVID-19 precautions on their website. The manuals say tenants are strongly advised to contact the on-site property management office if they have symptoms or have tested positive for the virus.

Nursing freshman Carolina Balesteros said she decided to live in an apartment for her first year in college rather than dorms. She said she felt there would be a lack of enforcement to mitigate the spread of the virus in University Housing. 

“As a freshman going in, it was kind of intimidating living in an apartment, but it became the obvious choice because Michigan has been very vague on how they control Corona,” Balesteros. “I didn’t really like how they were going about it. So I automatically just dipped in the dorms and went to an apartment.”

Balesteros shares a two bedroom double in ZWest with three other roommates she did not know before moving in. She added that her apartment building has generally been good at managing the precautions necessary to minimize the spread of the virus.

“They don’t enforce it but they appreciate it if management knew if people were staying over, but I’m not sure how honest people are about that or they haven’t really supplied a way for us to tell them that people stay over,” Balesteros said. “But other than that, it’s pretty COVID-conscious, and I don’t think I’ve ever stepped into an elevator with someone without a mask on.”

Additionally, Balesteros said she often uses the gym in ZWest, which enforces protocols for maintaining social distancing and frequent cleaning before every use.

“To be able to workout in the gym, you have to make an appointment 24 hours prior, and for every hour of the day, there can only be four people in the gym,” Balesteros said. “I go pretty frequently. People are pretty good about wiping down stuff and staying away from each other so it’s not like I feel unsafe.”

ZWest declined to comment when The Daily reached out, citing policy reasons.

Kinesiology sophomore Charlie Tuley moved into a double unit at The Varsity apartment complex. Going into move-in day, Tuley said he was slightly concerned about the density of people moving in, but noted how organized the process was.

“The only thing I was concerned about was our entire building’s move-in was in one day, which going in, I was a little nervous about that, but our building handled it very well,” Tuley said. “They had them spaced out by floor, and it actually went very smoothly. I wasn’t on elevators with more than two or three people at a time and it went very well.”

While move-in day turned out to be successful, Tuley said elevator occupancy is not heavily enforced in the building. 

“In the elevators, I’d say two to three people max,” Tuley said. “It’s not really enforced, like if I come up with a bunch of people that I know that I’m bringing up to my apartment, which hasn’t happened yet, but no one would bat an eye. If you get on with 500 people, no one’s going to tell you not to do that.”

Nistala said she is continuing to take necessary precautions whenever she leaves her apartment. Like most public areas, Nistala said living in a high-rise apartment has its challenges during the pandemic.

“I’ve just been doing my part to mostly avoid leaving, and when I do, (I make sure to have) the mask and sanitizer and everything,” Nistala said. “I feel like it’s generally okay, but again, there is a lot of stuff out of our control, so there definitely is more risk being in a high rise apartment in Ann Arbor than being at home.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Kristina Zheng can be reached at krizheng@umich.edu.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.