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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Ridgeway dorms: from party zone to isolation

WWU student residents with COVID-19 required to live on Ridge

A sign reading "Stop! Restricted community! No guests or visitors" in front of Ridgeway Gamma in Bellingham, Wash. on Sunday, April 25. Ridgeway Gamma is one of the dorms used to house Western Washington University students with COVID-19. // Photo by Cameron Martinez
A sign reading “Stop! Restricted community! No guests or visitors” in front of Ridgeway Gamma in Bellingham, Wash. on Sunday, April 25. Ridgeway Gamma is one of the dorms used to house Western Washington University students with COVID-19. // Photo by Cameron Martinez

By Cameron Martinez

Western Washington University’s student housing requires that students diagnosed with COVID-19 live in isolation in the Ridgeway residence halls during a 10-day isolation period. This area of campus that was once home to parties is now an isolation zone.

“It’s scary living in an empty building far from home, knowing that you have a scary virus that has killed people,” said first-year student, Molly Kurfman in an email. “I wanted to go home and see my family.”

There are differences between isolation and quarantine. Both occur on campus, but in different ways.

“Isolation is for people who know they are sick. The goal of quarantine is to limit a potentially contagious person’s exposure to others in the event they have COVID-19, but aren’t showing symptoms yet and could spread it if they had the virus,” said Whatcom County Health Department Public Information Officer, Melissa Morin in an email.

Students with an on-campus presence are required to follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines and receive biweekly tests for COVID-19.

When a student tests positive, they are communicated with and have their belongings moved to the Ridge by university staff. The transport team picks up students from their residence hall or campus parking lot.

“The team then transports the student to the Ridge and assists with bringing their belongings up to their room. This fantastic, trained transport team, led by Wayne Galloway, are in full [personal protective equipment] when they move the student into isolation or quarantine.” Western’s Director of University Communications, Paul Cocke, said in an email.

According to Cocke, the Ridge was chosen because it is one region of campus that is relatively far from other residence halls. It was also chosen to minimize the amount of noise complaints about the new building being built next the Ridge because only isolated students would live there.

Despite efforts made by the university, residents have not enjoyed their experiences with isolation on the Ridge because of how alone they’ve felt.

“I got a call my first night at Western saying that my covid test batch came back positive,” Kurfman said. “I felt very sad and upset, thinking I would miss out on the first two weeks of school and I wouldn’t make any friends.”

With the exception of the Ridge’s basketball courts, the Ridge is completely off limits to students who aren’t isolating.

“I struggled a lot with feeling so isolated and stuck not even being allowed to go sit in my car,” first-year student ElizaMarie Smith said in an email.

Since students are stuck on the Ridge, they have their food delivered to them by residence life staff.

“Students are allowed to leave their rooms to go outside to walk or get some sun/fresh air,” Cocke said. “There are designated walking areas around Beta and Gamma for students to take a walk and get outside.”

Despite the loneliness, some students think Western did a good job.

“I think they did a great job,” Kurfman said. “They called everyday to check in and made it easier to go through.”

After students have been on the Ridge for 10 days, they are allowed to go back to their dorm if they are no longer showing symptoms of COVID-19.

All student residents, including those who lived on the Ridge, are required to get tested until they have gotten all doses of the vaccine.

Despite the fact that the vaccine is more accessible, students are still encouraged to be safe.

“Have honest conversations with roommates and friends about your boundaries with COVID-19 safety and don’t be afraid to hold to the things that limit your risk, even if it’s different than what others think,” Morin said.

To learn more about COVID-19 issues brought up in the article visit the links below:

Shared Housing Guidelines

Quarantine vs. Isolation Infographic

Symptoms of COVID-19

Exposure to COVID-19

WA Vaccine Locator

Cameron Martinez is a campus life reporter for The Front. She is majoring in visual journalism with a minor in queer studies. When not reporting, Cameron enjoys designing pages and watching podcasts. You can reach her at cameron.westernfront@gmail.com and @doctorcameron on Instagram.

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