After Connor Biswell, a first-year living in Bassett dorm, found out his roommate tested positive for COVID-19, he quickly requested alternative housing.
It was Friday, Sept. 9 and Biswell, who has asthma, hoped for a fast response from Student Health. Instead, he soon learned that housing requests were only evaluated Monday through Thursday.
‘I'm like, ‘What do I do for the next two days before anybody else looks at this?’” Biswell said.
He ended up sleeping in the Basset common room for three nights because he “didn’t really know where else to go.”
“I literally would stay up until I knew most people were asleep, which would usually be 3 a.m. And then I’d wake up at 7 a.m.,” he said.
As Duke’s COVID protocols loosened this fall, on-campus students who test positive are no longer moved to a separate isolation facility and are required to isolate in their dorms.
During a student's isolation period, roommates are required to test and wear a mask. Those who are “medically high-risk for severe illness” and test negative may request separate housing during their roommate’s isolation period.
But some roommates, like Biswell, described unclear communication from Student Health, and instead slept in common rooms, hotels and other dorms.
On Monday Sept. 12, Student Health notified Biswell that housing would be provided for him at the Hilton Garden Inn Durham/University Medical Center, where he stayed until that Friday. Biswell paid for the hotel’s damage warranty deposit, but all other expenses were covered.
Duke covers the cost of alternative housing for students approved to be relocated due to medical risk factors, according to Chris Rossi, assistant vice president of Student Affairs.
Since Biswell’s isolating roommate couldn’t leave his dorm, some days Biswell would make the near-mile-long walk from the hotel to East Campus to grab food for him from Marketplace — all before his 8:30 a.m. class.
While Biswell is grateful that he eventually was able to stay in alternative housing, he wonders why there were no rooms available on East Campus and why alternative housing requests are not evaluated during weekends.
“[COVID-19 is] not something that just stops on Friday – it's not just like a work related thing,” Biswell said.
Student Affairs makes “every effort” to respond to alternative housing requests when they are submitted, including on weekends, Rossi wrote in an email to The Chronicle.
On West Campus, Sam Weitzel, a sophomore living in Craven Quad, moved into a friend’s dorm in Few Quad because her roommate with COVID-19 was isolating.
“We didn't really have a mattress or anything, so I was sleeping on this really big octopus Squishmallow [that] was my bed for eight days,” she said.
Weitzel said she was not made aware of any alternative housing options.
“[Duke] did text me saying that I was exposed to COVID, but still didn’t say what I could do about the exposure or anything like that. So nothing was really explicit,” Weitzel said.
“We can still arrange for alternative housing [for roommates of students who test positive for COVID-19] but only four students have used it since the start of the semester,” Rossi wrote on Oct. 14. He reiterated that there are no longer dedicated housing locations for on-campus students who test positive for COVID-19.
For students showing symptoms of COVID-19 and worry about putting their roommates at risk, navigating next steps can be more difficult.
First-year Luna Abadía, who was exhibiting symptoms, was worried about spreading it to her roommate and decided to self-isolate at the same hotel Biswell stayed at while she waited to be tested. Abadía paid for the two-night stay herself.
“I felt it’s a bit problematic because [the University is] not offering that structure for people to be able to go quarantine if your roommate feels uneasy about [COVID-19] or you don’t want to infect somebody if you don’t know what you have,” she said.
Abadía requested and received a PCR test at the Student Wellness Center. Twenty-four hours later, Abadía received a negative result and felt safe enough to move back into her dorm.
“I would have wished for better communication on Duke’s end and understanding that students have different levels of comfort around COVID,” Abadía reflected. “I also think just a little bit more willingness to talk to students about, ‘Do you want a PCR or an antigen test and what is the difference?’ and ‘Which [is] right for you?’”
Ashley Costantino, a resident coordinator on East Campus, echoed University guidance. She said she has been told to communicate to students to stay in their dorms if they are sick with COVID-19, as opposed to previous years in which isolation housing was guaranteed.
“We want to provide the safest environment for the students possible,” she said.
As of Oct. 25, the Center for Disease Control reported a COVID-19 Community Level rating of “low” in Durham County. The University recently lifted mask requirements in classrooms.
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Senou Kounouho is a Pratt sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Michael Ramos is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter of The Chronicle's 118th volume.