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Concerns over U of M quarantine and isolation housing arise as capacity tops 50%

A sign of the University of Michigan Central Campus
Anna Schlutt
Michigan Radio

On Friday, the University of Michigan's quarantine and isolation housing was at 46% capacity — a rapid increase from 22% the Monday before, but still a little less than half of the units that house students who have tested positive for COVID-19, had been exposed to someone who had tested positive, or were waiting on test results.

That's why Katherine Wright, a sociology PhD candidate at U of M, was surprised when she got an email from U of M housing Friday night, telling her that all of the units in vacant buildings had been occupied. The university would now begin housing students in her Northwood II apartment building.

She tweeted Friday:

Wright says the lack of communication from U of M has been especially frustrating.

"I only learned that where I lived was quarantine and isolation housing in September, which was four months after I re-signed my lease, and I only learned that through the graduate student strike that was happening at the time," she said. "So we were never notified that our neighborhood was where quarantine and isolation housing was."

Wright says that all the residents of Northwoods II are pretty "frazzled" by the news.

"I emailed my resident advisor to see if she had any information, and she did not. She had also found out that our apartment building was going to be used for quarantine housing at the same time the residents did," Wright said. "We haven't heard anything from the university since then."

U of M had been using vacant buildings on its North Campus for quarantine and isolation housing for the duration of the school year, so Wright and other Northwoods residents have seen students quarantining and self-isolating in her community.

"A main concern that I have... is that the university doesn't actually require students who are quarantining and isolating to be on full lockdown," Wright said. "So students are still allowed to walk around the community and leave the apartments. They only say that they're not allowed to have guests and have social gatherings. Just walking around, you can see that those things aren't being followed. There are no repercussion for not following those rules, there are no RA's for quarantining students, so nobody checks in on them."

In her tweet, Wright shared a photo of a gap between the bottom of the door to the apartment and the floor, and expressed concerns about airflow and how that might affect transmission.

"There was a line in the email that they sent, saying that there was no exchange between units. But I have a very large gap underneath my front door, and all of our units are in one enclosed space, so we all share a hallway. Fire alarms have been set off in the hallway from steam coming from apartments with their doors closed. I don't know the specifics, but there is a huge risk of having students all together in the apartments where I live."

Wright says it seems like the university doesn't care about the students who have COVID-19 or the residents living in Northwoods.

"It's all just very concerning. The fact that they're mixing quarantining and isolating students when they transport them, like not caring if people might have COVID versus people that definitely do, just throwing them all together and not really caring is very concerning." She adds, "If I had known that my apartment was going to be quarantine housing, I probably wouldn't have resigned my lease [in June], but that was never presented as an option for us, and apparently this was a part of the reopening plan the whole time."

U of M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald provided the following statement:

Michigan Housing has been using units in Northwood for quarantine housing since March. Michigan Housing consulted with our campus public health experts from the beginning on how to appropriately establish Q&I housing at Northwood. Because each apartment is separate and the units do not share any forced-air ventilation systems, there are no public health concerns with quarantine housing being in the same buildings (separate apartments) as Northwood residents. 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. 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.

Editor's note: The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's license.

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Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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