Residence Life clarifies mandatory quarantine policies for on-campus living

By Kendall Polidori, Co-editor-in-chief

Shane Tolentino

With the fall semester set to start next month and a citywide emergency travel order in place, students coming to Columbia from other states will have to plan for a two-week quarantine—whether it be in their home state or in Chicago.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady issued the order July 2, directing travelers “entering or returning to Chicago from states experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases to quarantine for a 14-day period from the time of last contact within the identified state.” Details for college students coming to Chicago from high-incidence states were finalized Wednesday, according to a Thursday, Aug. 6 email to students from Residence Life.

The city’s order went into effect July 6 and as of publication Friday, Aug. 7 includes Puerto Rico and 22 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Missouri, Wisconsin, Nebraska and North Dakota.

The list will be updated every Tuesday and go into effect the following Friday at 12:01 a.m., according to the order.

Director of Residence Life Kelli Collins said students living on-campus will have to quarantine if they are from Puerto Rico or one of the 22 listed states, but said they will have the option to either quarantine for 14 days at home or in their dorms.

Thursday’s email from Residence Life to students with housing contracts said “the first week of move-ins will be reserved for students from states on the Chicago quarantine list in order to support spacing out arrivals from around the country.”

Collins said move-in dates will begin on Aug. 24 for students from states on the quarantine list, and Aug. 31 for all other students.

As states are added to or removed from the list each week, Collins said Residence Life will make sure to have conversations with students about steps they should be taking to ensure their safety and the safety of others.

During a Friday, July 31 Zoom meeting hosted by the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, Chief of Staff Laurent Pernot said the college is still figuring out the exact details of how to recommend effective quarantining for students, as reported by the Chronicle Friday, July 31.

At the meeting, Pernot said the mandatory quarantine order will likely impact “thousands” of Columbia students. As of publication Friday, Aug. 7, Pernot was not available to provide a specific number of students who will be impacted.

Amy Uhl, an associate professor in the Theatre Department who attended the meeting, said she does not understand how the college will keep up with tracking who is quarantining and who is not.

She said while the college is doing the best it can in terms of flexibility, the option to quarantine at home before coming to Chicago is illogical because students will then need to travel to campus and risk exposure.

As someone who will be teaching hybrid courses, Uhl said she is concerned with being on-campus and is not comfortable with not knowing where students may go before or after an in-person class.

All Columbia students, including those living off campus, will have to complete an online campus reopening training and an attestation and quiz before entering any Columbia building. Attestations must be completed daily to determine if a student has experienced coronavirus symptoms or has traveled from any of the locations listed under the mandatory quarantine order in the past two weeks.

Many colleges have been confronted with how to keep students living on- and off-campus safe during the pandemic. Loyola University announced yesterday it will not open residence halls at all for the fall semester, and other institutions like Marquette University and the University of Notre Dame will start their fall semesters earlier than usual and finish in-person classes before Thanksgiving.

The early end to the fall semester at some schools “is to limit student travel ahead of any potential resurgence of coronavirus infections anticipated for the winter,” as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Lambrini Lukidis, associate vice president of Strategic Communications and External Relations, said the college “briefly considered an early start [of the Fall 2020 semester] but were unable to pursue the possibility because of the timing of residence hall leases.”

Most other institutions across the U.S. that were able to start the semester earlier and end before Thanksgiving are the owners of their own residence halls, she said. The earliest Columbia has access to its residence halls is Aug. 24.

In a July 29 interview with the Chronicle, Collins said students who decide to quarantine at home before traveling to Chicago will have to certify it with the college by signing documentation.

Collins said there is no way the college can ensure students are telling the truth when signing the documents but said it is the student’s responsibility to “take hold of their wellbeing” and hopes they will be honest.

Eliannethe Miranda Colon, a sophomore American Sign Language-English Interpretation major, is transferring to Columbia in the fall from Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, and has never stepped foot on campus or in Chicago.

Because Colon is coming to Chicago from Florida, she will have to quarantine once she arrives, and plans to do so in her on-campus housing unit in the Dwight.

Colon said it is not only nerve-wracking to have to quarantine alone in a place she has never been to before, but also to not know what room she was assigned to or who her roommates were until Friday Aug. 7.

“It has been hard on our end to plan when there was so much silence for so long before contracts started rolling out,” Colon said.

All room assignments and roommate information can be found on the housing portal, according to the email from Residence Life.

The email said beginning Friday, Aug. 7, students will be able to reserve a date and time for moving in. Each resident will have two hours to complete their move-in and is allowed two helpers, and “no exceptions can be made to the amount of time or number of helpers,” as stated in the email.

Molleigh Verhoye, an incoming freshman and musical theatre major, also has never stepped foot in Chicago and is traveling from California to move into the University Center.

Verhoye will not be alone while quarantining, though. She said her mom will be flying to Chicago with her and she will stay in a hotel for two weeks until officially moving her into the UC.

Verhoye said she is more nervous about living in the UC because it is shared with other schools and she is unsure if the same rules will apply to them.

In a Friday, Aug. 7 email to the Chronicle, Brooke Lopeman, area regional manager for Peak Campus, which manages the UC, said “students will follow the guidelines outlined by their university in regards to quarantine and all standard UC policies in place at this time.”

Although the new changes in Residence Life buildings include limiting one student per bedroom, depending on the style of housing they are assigned, they may have suite mates with whom they will share a common living space with, as reported by the Chronicle July 1.

Collins said this may mean those sharing a living space could be from different states, including the ones on the list of the travel order.

Collins said students are encouraged to maintain social distancing with suite mates and wear face masks when around others in campus housing, although it is not a requirement.

“Students must be vigilant and disciplined about their safety and the safety of those around them,” Collins said.

The Thursday email also advised that students first have a discussion with a roommate they suspect is ill.

“Should you have concerns about a roommate having the virus, we recommend that you have a conversation with them about both of you being tested. Columbia will provide testing to any resident student upon request,” the email states.

Colon said because she is traveling from Florida and is aware it is listed as a coronavirus hot spot, she will have a conversation with her roommate(s) right away.

Colon said she will make sure to physically distance herself from her assigned roommates and wear a face covering, at least during the first few weeks, in order to be courteous.

Collins said Residence Life will provide hand sanitizer around the buildings and “possibly wipes in the common areas,” but students will be required to bring their own cleaning supplies for their housing units.

Colon said it would be helpful for the college to provide basic cleaning supplies as stores have not been well-stocked with these products recently.

If students decide to quarantine for two weeks in campus housing, Collins said they will be regularly checked on through virtual meetings with someone from Residence Life, but it is not clear if resident assistants will be responsible for ensuring the student is actually quarantining.

She said Residence Life encourages students who plan to quarantine on campus to bring two week’s worth of food with them so they do not have to leave their living space. While this may not be possible for those flying into Chicago, students are encouraged to order groceries online and have them delivered to their dorms.

With two hybrid classes and three fully online, Colon said she debated if it was worth it to move to Chicago. Although Verhoye is nervous about the move, she said she still has a good feeling about it and is grateful she is able to live on campus.

She said she will still find ways to meet and connect with people by physically distancing herself rather than socially distancing.

As for Residence Life’s guest policy, the email said no guests will be allowed in any apartment or room between Aug. 24 and Sept. 21. It said from Sept. 21 to Dec. 31 only guests within the same building will be allowed in an apartment or room, with a capacity of six people in each unit. Guests from outside a building will not be permitted for the fall semester.

Collins said aside from quarantining, students will be responsible for monitoring their health and symptoms constantly, and if they develop coronavirus symptoms during the academic year, they must call the student health center immediately.

Coronavirus testing will be available to “any resident student upon request,” according to the Aug. 6 announcement, but it is unclear if tests will be available to students who are not living on campus.

There will also be designated rooms in various Columbia residence buildings for those to self-isolate if need be, but Collins said she is not certain how many rooms will be available.

Colon said the announcement of room assignments and more details on how and when to safely move into their housing units was sent Thursday, Aug. 6, after students have been “floating” and waiting for answers for months.

“The communication, I feel like isn’t always 100%,” Colon said. “Especially with the semester being so close … there’s still so much that hasn’t been fully figured out yet.”