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How Are Colleges Handling Quarantining On Campus?

No consensus from universities, public officials on whether students should return home or stay in college towns as virus closes in-person classes.
Posted at 5:06 PM, Sep 02, 2020

College students exposed to the coronavirus on campus may be receiving mixed messages about their next steps. 

“Do not return home if you’re positive and spread the virus to your family, your aunts, your uncles, your grandparents," said U.S. Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx. 

“We’ve already had students that have been asked to quarantine or isolate and the parents have come and pick them up," said Barbara Jean Morris, president of SUNY Oneonta.

It’s another uncertainty added to an eventful semester — one where roughly 20 percent of 3,000 institutions nationwide are primarily offering in-person classes this fall, and many campuses are already reporting outbreaks after only a few weeks back on campus. 

“There's consensus in the public health community that it's better to keep students on campus rather than sending them home, as many colleges are doing," said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. 

Experts say some institutions are equipped to handle quarantining on campus better than others. Several smaller colleges short on space are renting out hotels to house students. 

And organizing logistics like testing, contact tracing, and increased cleaning for newly created isolation or quarantine housing comes on top of the economic troubles higher education is already facing.

“One third of campuses do not have full time physicians on staff," Pasquerella said. "There's been a disinvestment in health care centers over the past few years. Parents are concerned that their children shouldn't stay on campus and instead should be home in their local communities, getting services from local hospitals. And so this is the dilemma that colleges are facing.”

Bigger schools with more resources are facing issues, too — like at New York University and the University of Georgia, where students posted videos on TikTok roasting the meal deliveries they’ve received while in quarantine.

And a University of Iowa student’s description of her stint in an isolation room as “dirty, gross, and disgusting” was shared on social media last month. 

The university’s housing director later issued an apology, saying they’re quote “committed to improving processes and procedures within our system and across campus.”