Campus, Coronavirus, News

COVID-19 pandemic forces housing changes

Boston University announced Tuesday that all students would be required to leave on-campus housing by March 22 or not return to campus at all, with exceptions to be made for those with extenuating circumstances, as a precaution against the escalating coronavirus pandemic. SOPHIE PARK/ DFP FILE

All Boston University students still on campus, with some exceptions, are required to leave campus and empty their dorms by noon March 22 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those with extenuating circumstances can make an appeal to stay in their residence.

BU Housing announced in an email to the community that all students, with some exceptions, are advised to either depart from campus immediately or not return. The announcement comes as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates both in Massachusetts and across the country.

This email came after a series of other emails from BU Housing. One on March 14 notified students of the potential movement of on-campus residents to new housing to create quarantine space. Additionally, another email was sent to students on March 16 announcing that housing selection for the 2020-2021 school year was being postponed.

Colin Riley, a BU spokesperson, said the stream of emails and updates is the result of the government’s constant updates on how to handle the pandemic.

“Each day there was new information and new guidance from the federal, state and local government,” Riley said. “Only a couple of days ago did the city declare a public health emergency.”

Riley said the university’s theory behind moving around on-campus residents was to best provide sick students with a place to stay while simultaneously keeping healthy students away from sick individuals. He said the university wanted to prepare to help students in the case of a swiftly moving virus.

“If [the virus] moved exponentially, we realized that this was a good plan,” Riley said. “And so we identified those particular residences that lend themselves to taking that measure.”

However, Riley also said that in accordance with President Robert Brown’s email yesterday, students should avoid returning to campus and hopefully will not need the isolation space the university is providing. He also stressed that students’ personal items would be safe, and that right now they should focus on staying home and staying healthy.

“We do not want students to return to campus for their things. Their items will be safe,” Riley said. “The university will take care of it and the cost associated with it.” 

Following Tuesday’s email, many students took to social media, particularly Instagram, to express concern about the decision. Isaac Andres Carrasco Ortiz, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, commented on the fast-approaching deadline to return to campus to remove belongings.

“Can you please extend the deadline to move out some of us live very far from Boston and don’t have enough time to move out on time?” Ortiz wrote on @BostonU’s post, gathering over 50 likes. 

Another student, Ethan Collier, a sophomore in CAS, agreed with Ortiz’ statement and offered an alternative plan for student belongings that have been left in campus dorms.

“Let us store our belongings in the dorm for now,” Collier wrote in his comment, which gathered more than 100 likes. “The alternative is extremely unsafe.” 

Other students raised concerns about the current international travel ban and 14-day mandated quarantine time after returning from overseas or highly affected areas. This mandate, imposed by President Donald Trump, would make it impossible for many far-away students to return to campus as the university requested.

The Boston University Parent and Family Programs Facebook account posted additional guidance for students today, writing that students who have since traveled home should not return to campus.

“For students who are not on campus, we advise the following — please do not return to campus,” they wrote. “Your belongings are secure in your room and can remain there.”

The comment about belongings remaining in student rooms has since been modified to students being asked to fill out a Personal Belongings Storage Mailing List on the BU Housing Portal that has UPS and storage staff pack up your items and ship them to students. This information can be found on the BU COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions and Answers website.

Students were also notified by BU Housing March 14 that certain residents would be moved to new on-campus housing in order to provide space suitable for quarantining students. 

Housing selection for BU students who have not yet chosen their Fall 2020 housing and rooms has also been postponed until further notice from Residence Life staff, according to the BU Housing website and an email sent to students March 16.

Natalie McKnight, dean at the College of General Studies, said in a statement that students not on campus should stay away.

“The only students who have to move out this weekend are the ones still living in the dorms who did not leave for spring break,” McKnight wrote in a message to professors who have since shared the content with students. “Students who have belongings on-campus but who are now home or elsewhere should not return to campus this weekend to move out.”

The total number of cases in the state has reached 218, which doesn’t take into account those who haven’t been tested for the virus, according to NBC Boston. As more residents get tested, the number is increasing by the day. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people remain socially isolated and to avoid gatherings of more than 250 people. Additionally, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Sunday that gatherings of over 25 people were banned and that all public schools in the state were to be closed for three weeks.

Restaurants and bars are also currently facing shutdowns in major cities like Boston, New York and Chicago.

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