WU opens up campus to house frontline medical personnel
Washington University is using the Charles F. Knight Executive Education & Conference Center to house 30-40 frontline medical personnel as of April 1. Apartments at the Lofts, where no students currently reside, will also be opened up for the same purpose by the end of the week.
While other universities have offered to house COVID-19 patients as well as medical personnel, Vice Chancellor for Operations and Technology Transfer Dedric Carter said that Washington University only has plans to house medical personnel at this time.
“Our focus is on providing assistance to first responders and frontline medical personnel,” Carter said. “So medical health care workers and those who are on the front lines. We have reasonable space at our hospital and we have a plan… for supporting any patients that would be in other places.”
In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those living in University-owned buildings, all spaces will be treated as isolation spaces.
“If something were to happen to frontline medical staff, you start having a really tough domino effect and a big impact on the region,” Carter said. “So, we’re keeping safe distances. We’re minimizing the contact when people arrive and asking them to go to their rooms and food is delivered outside their door at a certain time based on… a schedule.”
Currently, around 350 students still live in University-owned housing. Senior Kaelene DeCoster, who initially had to stay in University-owned housing as part of her 3-2 master’s program, supports the idea of housing medical workers on campus despite concerns that it may increase her own risk of exposure to COVID-19.
“I think that it would be great because there are so many dorms that are not being used and people who need housing and, especially because we’re so close to our campus, it would be an easy commute for a lot of doctors or physicians who are working a double shift,” DeCoster said.
Sophomore Guorun Yang feels less comfortable with the presence of medical personnel and is even more concerned about his safety if patients were to be moved on campus. He says that he is currently considering moving to an off-campus apartment.
“I wouldn’t like it because it’s going to be in my periphery, and I [would] know that patients are around me,” Yang said. “I just don’t feel safe if they introduce the source of the virus onto the campus.”
According to Carter, the needs of students who currently live in University-owned housing will be the administration’s top priority and they will not be asked to move from their current places of residence. Residences that still contain student belongings will also be left undisturbed.
“We are working closely with Residential Life, but there are no plans to shuffle students around or move students in any way,” Carter said. “We think that our students are an important part of our community and the others are guests [for whom] we’re trying to make available something to meet a need.”
Given the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carter’s office has come up with contingency plans to “meet as much of the demand that we can within the space that we have.” However, Carter hopes that implementing these plans will not be necessary.
“We might be able to look at some better-suited space like Sumers [Recreation Center] or something like that that has big open spaces, similar to what you see with Javits [Convention Center] in New York,” Carter said. “But as far as we can tell now, there’s no need to move in that direction.”