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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

WWU prepares quarantine dorm spaces

University Residences plans to use Ridgeway Beta Stack One to isolate or quarantine sick students; residents say campus miscommunicated about moving

By Erasmus Baxter

After around 30 hours of confusion, residents of Ridgeway Beta Stack One are coming to terms with being displaced as part of COVID-19 preparations.

“I’m truly not sure how to feel,” Isis Mabes said in an email. “I don’t really want to go through the stress of moving rooms but I suppose ultimately if it needs to be done, then I don’t mind.”

University Residences told residents it has identified the stack as the first residence hall it will be clearing as it proactively prepares locations to isolate potential cases and quarantine confirmed cases, said Brady Pratt, a third-year student living in the stack.

An email sent to residents Friday, March 13, says that Stack One, a semi-detached tower of suites, was chosen because it has easy access to the outside and that they hoped to have current residents out by the second week of spring quarter.

The Friday email came after residents received a one-paragraph email Thursday, March 12, informing they were being “consolidated” and would need to move out of their rooms without offering a timeframe or further explanation. Students also said their resident adviser was not informed of the move.

The lack of information led some on Reddit and Facebook to speculate the move was due to a COVID-19 case, or in preparation for a potential quarantine.

University Residences initially contradicted those rumors in an email from a university spokesperson Thursday, calling it a “routine consolidation,” before confirming it was connected to COVID-19 preparation in a Friday email that ended up in residents’ junk folders.

However, after a Friday afternoon video call, residents appear to be on the same page.

Pratt, who told The Western Front Thursday he was upset and stressed about the lack of communication, said those on the call were helpful and apologized for the lack of communication.

“As possibly one of the most stressed students in that meeting, the resident directors and administrators were very helpful and alleviated many of my concerns,” he said in an email. “I don’t want to leave the Stack, but being able to talk with them has greatly clarified what accommodations are being made considering the circumstances and reduced much of the stress associated with this decision.”

Pratt said they were told they would have priority for room selection and would receive assistance packing, including having a team pack and store their items if they can’t return from break in time.

Elizabeth Olney said she is now deciding whether to come back to campus for spring quarter or to just stay home and take online courses only.

“I still wish it wasn’t my dorm specifically, but I do understand now why it could be deemed necessary,” she said in an email. “Especially since if it does get worse and hospitals fill up, they’re going to need space for students.”

Director of communications and marketing Paul Cocke told the Front in a Friday email that the situation around COVID-19 is rapidly evolving and so information will sometimes be incorrect.

He confirmed Western is preparing for the possibility they will have to move students in residence halls if COVID-19 cases occur to isolate potential cases and quarantine confirmed cases, but denied that the areas that will be consolidated have been identified yet.

“At this time, to our knowledge, there are no students self-isolating from COVID-19 in the residence halls and no confirmed cases among WWU students, based on testing at the Student Health Center,” he wrote.

Fourth-year community health major Emily Gerhardt was a resident adviser in Ridgeway for two years and reached out to the Front because she said she never heard about, or saw, “routine consolidation.” She said she thought the lack of communication was irresponsible with concerns about COVID-19 floating around.

“[This is] the worst time to be extremely vague,” Gerhardt said.

The Front has asked for further clarification from Cocke, and will update this story when we receive answers. 

Related story: First WWU student tests positive

Follow The Western Front on Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates. Our full coverage of how the novel coronavirus is affecting Whatcom County is here.

If you’re interested in contributing to the Front’s reporting during this crisis, you are invited to participate in our open newsroom project, where experienced reporters and editors will work alongside the community to gather and verify information that leads Whatcom County toward shared solutions. To participate, please fill out this form.

1 COMMENT

  1. I recommend our kids/students drive home or be picked up (if possible) and stay home to avoid a possible outbreak until this passes. On-line can be done in their homes, reduces the number of students who have to stay at WWU and more precautionary. I’m a mother, RN of 32 years and Family Nurse Practitioner of 27 years. I was Navy for 31 years and at the Naval Academy and saw how disruptive a virus can be at a university. Reimbursement for housing and meal plan would be appropriate. Thank you.

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