COVID Housing Overwhelmed as Cases Spike

and | Junior News Editors
A brown brick building with stacked balconies and a green tree in the background.

Millbrook dorms, where many students isolated due to positive tests this semester. (Holden Hindes/Student Life)

Throughout the Spring semester, COVID-19 cases surged to record levels on the Washington University campus, resulting in difficulty providing housing and adequate resources for students placed in isolation housing.

Following Spring break travel and lifted mask mandates, the university saw its most intense COVID-19 surge ever starting the week of March 28th. According to Executive Director of Habif Health and Wellness Center Dr. Cheri LeBlanc, an average of 37 students reported positive COVID-19 tests every day during that week. 

“890 students have had a documented positive COVID test since the semester began on Jan 18th. This number includes both home Antigen tests and tests we have done either at Habif, or through the BJH lab,” LeBlanc said on April 12.

The magnitude of COVID-19 positive students documented this semester deviates greatly from those of past semesters, with 514 in Fall 2021 and 504 over the entire 2020-2021 school year. 

Since the initial surge, the cases have been decreasing for the most part. “We hope that this downward trend continues,” LeBlanc said, and we aren’t alone in this outbreak. “Many universities have been reporting an increase in student cases, for example, Cornell, Rice, Michigan, Georgetown, Hopkins, Columbia, American University and some universities in California have all seen a spike in student cases.”

It is hard to pinpoint the exact reason for the outbreak. “There weren’t any huge places where we were seeing congregate living exposures,” Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellbeing Kirk Dougher said. “Numbers were just going up, and I think it’s just largely due to how contagious the BA2 Variant was.”

COVID-19 positive students have been isolating in Millbrook, but additional areas on campus were set up to serve as isolation housing to keep up with the recent increase in cases.

“Students with a positive COVID test isolate for at least 7 days,” LeBlanc said, “They are allowed to leave isolation housing after 7 days if they have been fever free for 24 hours and their symptoms are improving.” 

Students have expressed frustration with the lack of clarity and access to resources surrounding the quarantine housing process.

It took Sophomore Casey Titel a day and a half to get to isolation housing after having tested positive. She attributes the delay to the “vague” directions provided by Habif that forced her to stay another night in her suite until the office opened again the next morning.

“I wish they were more clear and communicative and gave clear directions,” Titel said. “Obviously me not being able to find the frat house and waiting an extra day wasn’t ideal for my suitemates who didn’t have COVID.”

Due to difficulty getting in contact with Habif and the isolation housing team, first-year Grace Demba waited 12 hours to get to isolation housing after having tested positive.

“Because I’m in a double, I felt really bad because I didn’t want to make my roommate positive and obviously we have to sleep in the same room and everything–so it was a little inconvenient,” Demba said.

First-year Jason Castello described feeling stressed out throughout the quarantine housing process, partly due to the lack of contact students in isolation had to reliable care.

“There was no direct care–no direct nurse care in particular–which was a little bit frustrating and nerve wracking, considering that people were really sick,” Castello said.

For example, Castello was unable to reach dining services with requests, and Demba recalls feeling frustrated as 25 meal points were taken out of her Meal Plan everyday–despite depending on Instacart and Postmates for desired food.

“I also think that having more direct care with not only nurse service but dining services would make the experience a little bit more sufferable for people, because people are really sick and suffering and it’s hard to rely on meals that are, quite frankly, not up to WashU standard,” Castello said.


Questions about the University’s current COVID policies? 

What do I do if I’m exposed to COVID-19? Answers to some common pandemic questions

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