All designated spaces in vacant buildings for temporary quarantine and isolation housing in Northwood Apartments I-III and Baits II Residence Hall are now occupied, according to a Friday email from Michigan Housing.
As a result, students who have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19 will be housed in buildings with regular term residents. Michigan Housing leadership indicated that this was a possibility in a September email to residents, but noted they would first employ vacant buildings before using other locations.
As of Saturday, the University of Michigan’s quarantine housing and isolation housing is at 50% occupancy with 300 students using it. This comes just one day after total COVID-19 cases crossed 1,000 since the start of the school year. The number of students entering quarantine housing has more than doubled in the past week.
The email clarified that, because the apartments “do not have forced air heating and cooling systems, there is no air exchange between units.” Those quarantined in the units are expected to adhere to guidelines by “remaining in the Northwood community” unless they need medical care, wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing when they leave their rooms.
Graduate student Katherine Wright lives in Northwood and said she was shocked to learn that quarantining students would begin moving into the building. Wright, who resigned her lease in mid-May, said the possibility of quarantine housing in her building was not mentioned in her renewal contract.
“The fact that this is happening when we’re at 46% capacity for Northwood housing — that just means they planned to do this from the start and didn’t tell us,” Wright said. “Which is surprising, because I would have liked to know that information before I resigned my lease.”
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily that there are no public health concerns with keeping quarantining students in the same building as regular term residents because the apartments do not share ventilation systems. Fitzgerald explained that the University had promised Northwood residents they would be contacted when designated quarantine spaces were filled.
“Michigan Housing, nonetheless, committed to keep Q&I students in separate units for as long as possible and that was communicated to Northwood residents in September,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The most recent email to Northwood residents was notification that Housing is no longer able to keep Q&I students and Northwood residents in separate buildings. Housing was following through on an earlier commitment to alert residents when separation into separate buildings was no longer possible.”
During a weekly COVID-19 briefing Friday, Chief Health Officer Preeti Malani said the increase in the number of students entering quarantine housing is “not sustainable” and the University is projected to fill all available housing within a couple of weeks.
“This is very concerning — in the last week, there’s been a very robust increase in these numbers and I know many people are following them on the COVID tracker,” Malani said. “There still is plenty of housing available, but at the current rate, we will go through it within a couple weeks.”
In an email to The Daily on Friday, Fitzgerald said an average of 51 students checked into quarantine housing between Tuesday and Thursday.
Quarantine housing capacity is one of the metrics used to evaluate the University’s strategy for managing the spread of the virus. If isolation and quarantine housing is projected to reach 80% capacity of 600 beds within the next 14 days, then a review of campus operations will be triggered. Other thresholds for reevaluation have already been crossed.
The status of residents in quarantine housing has been the subject of concern on campus, with students reporting unhygienic conditions and subpar meal delivery service, as well as insufficient communication on behalf of the University.
LSA junior Sam Burnstein, who posted a viral TikTok criticizing the University, previously told The Daily he felt like the University was not prepared to care for students who were isolating.
“When walking into the apartments here, the whole time I kept thinking, ‘This feels like a big afterthought,’” Burnstein said. “It feels like the University had, like, two or three weeks till the school year starts and they’re like, ‘Oh, we need somewhere to put these students,’ because everything was just very haphazardly thrown together.”
In response to the criticism, the University established a quarantine and isolation housing coordinator position to manage students in the school’s care and address their needs, in addition to providing microwaves to residents.
In the University’s weekly COVID-19 briefing Friday, Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon acknowledged that conditions in quarantine housing were not ideal and said they improved the units after hearing students’ concerns.
“We made some really important improvements to the conditions in isolation housing several weeks ago,” Harmon said. “We were originally probably not as consistent as we should have been and so we really ramped up the communications, the amenities and really treated the experience almost like a hotel experience.”
Daily News Editors Liat Weinstein and Emma Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Managing News Editor Leah Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.