Colleges Setting Aside Quarantine Housing for Fall

Colleges Setting Aside Quarantine Housing for Fall

by Grace Ferguson

Boston University is setting aside 500 of its 10,000 beds for student quarantine housing this fall. BU President Robert Brown released this information at a virtual higher education panel on Thursday.

The panel, which was hosted by the Massachusetts High Technology Council, also included President Laurie Leshin of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and President Paula Johnson of Wellesley College. Leshin said her school is also setting aside about 5 percent of its beds.

Brown said BU is working with local hotels to expand its housing capacity. All of the quarantine housing will be on campus, but that means the university needs to vacate 500 beds. An extra complication is that the quarantine rooms have to be singles with private bathrooms. Brown said many of those are usually occupied by students with medical accommodations, so BU needs to find a way to fit those needs in a different room.

Add on testing, contact tracing, social distancing, and everything else it will take to reopen campus, and you’ve got a tall order.

“I’ve kind of come to believe that this is our version of the Manhattan Project,” Brown said.

The hope, of course, is that this Manhattan Project won’t end in death and destruction. BU is already setting up its own COVID-19 testing facility, but Brown said the university might need the help of outside labs. BU has more than 35,000 students and 10,000 employees.

Meanwhile, the much smaller Wellesley College is looking for local labs to do its tests. Wellesley’s President Johnson said testing is vital for colleges, which are full of young people who are less likely to develop symptoms of COVID-19.

“We know the largest risk is going to be an asymptomatic carrier, and therefore spreader to others in the community,” Johnson said.

All three presidents agreed that campus life will have to look different. Leshin said it will depend on students.

“We’re messaging very strongly already to our community that I can make all the decisions I want, but the success of this isn’t about anything I’m gonna decide,” Leshin said. “It’s about our community coming together and understanding that they each have a role to play, and accepting that role as a part of the condition for being able to return.”

Brown mentioned that BU will put students in groups called called “households.” The president has mentioned the term in previous appearances, but he has never offered any details. The clearest definition has come from BU Spokesman Colin Riley, who wrote in an email that households are “smaller cohorts of students who regularly interact.” At the panel, Brown said the households will provide a sense of community. The university is not ready to announce more information at this time, Brown said.

As for sports, BU will not allow spectators in the stands this fall. Brown said that athletes likely will not be commuting across state lines.  One in five students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are varsity athletes, and Leshin said her college is looking for ways to make sports safe.