BYU’s on-campus isolation housing filling up

Students walk around the BYU campus on the first day of school. The university has set coronavirus quarantine protocols for on-campus housing. (Preston Crawley)

BYU has students quarantined in on-campus housing because of the coronavirus just two weeks into the semester.

“I don’t exactly know what’s going on but from what I understand, things aren’t going well,” said Heritage Halls resident assistant Daniel Webb. “We got an email recently about like outbreaks in Helaman Halls, which those are the kinds of things that are filling up quarantine centers.” 

The BYU COVID-19 housing website says “quarantine protocols” are in place for BYU students living in on-campus housing, but a BYU On-Campus Housing Manager Jay Brown said “quarantine centers” do not exist.

“We have 5,606 single students living in on-campus housing and have isolation housing that can accommodate about 5% of that number,” Brown said. “Part of our plan includes utilizing Aspen Grove if needs be.”

Multiple floors in Heritage Halls were designated as isolation housing for on-campus residents who tested positive for COVID-19. But these isolation housing units might be reaching capacity, a possibility the university has not confirmed.

One of the buildings in Heritage Halls—a BYU on-campus housing complex. (Preston Crawley)

“If I were to guess it would be that we have reached capacity or we will within the next couple of days,” Webb said. “I feel like things could have gone well at school, but the amount of partying that people are doing is really not, like, it’s way worse than I expected.”

In an email Friday, Sept. 4, University Communications encouraged students to “be wise” and follow safety requirements on and off campus. The email also said there is no “specific case threshold” that indicates to move back to remote learning. Instead, BYU is looking at various factors, including “BYU’s capacity to isolate or quarantine those living in on-campus housing.”  

Heritage Halls apartments have their own bathrooms, so Heritage residents typically quarantine in their apartment. Most students in the isolation housing, however, are Helaman Halls residents since Helaman Halls buildings have community bathrooms. Those asked to relocate during quarantine or isolation may transport themselves or may utilize transportation provided by request in their housing area.

“I think every single room that is available for quarantine has three bedrooms, but two bathrooms, so there’s only two people in each one. That way no one has to share a bathroom,” explained Webb.

Brown said that students asked to quarantine or isolate “may transport themselves” or request transportation provided in their housing area.

“I’ve seen people walking around one of the buildings, with just suitcases and sheets and blankets and stuff,” Webb said. “It could be like their friends that are delivering them their stuff but I cannot clarify that and I think I saw one time one of the university vans pull up in front of the building and drop off a person.”

BYU freshman Anessa Gibson lives in May Hall at Helaman Halls. She said when she first moved in, the health enforcement “wasn’t really good” but that signs have now been hung up in the hallways reminding students to wear a mask in the stairwells and common area. 

“Recently I’d say that my hall is taking a little more precaution and setting up the signs,” Gibson said. “I know other people in different halls who said their RA is like, it kind of depends on your preference, so there’s no actual regulation for it.”

On-Campus housing quarantine procedure

The BYU on-campus housing quarantine procedure starts with a phone call from BYU Risk Management asking about symptoms and exposure, followed by instructions to quarantine. 

“It wasn’t just one call, I got like five or six different calls just from Risk Management,” said Coleman Sandy, a freshman who tested positive for COVID on Wednesday, Aug. 26. “Even the state of Utah called me.” Sandy is finishing quarantine with his roommates in his Heritage Halls apartment. He had hard symptoms for 24 hours but aside from that he said the experience “hasn’t been all that bad.” 

When in quarantine, students stay inside for 10-14 days — 10 for those who tested positive and 14 for those who were exposed. Brown said length of quarantine and isolation is provided by a physician or local health authority. Resident assistants bring students packaged meals from the Cannon Center or buy them groceries by using the student’s meal plan or Cougar Cash. 

“My advice for anybody else that gets quarantined is probably make sure you have enough food in your apartment. Snack foods are very helpful because you end up snacking a lot. And then make sure you have stuff to do,” Sandy said. Isaac Alika Loo, also a freshman and Sandy’s roommate, said he and his roommates started their own “quarantine Olympics.”

“We’re gonna have a winner and a loser with a prize and a punishment at the end,” Loo said. “We’ve done that every other night this whole time so it keeps our minds at least semi occupied and keeps us from going, from going too crazy.”

Webb said sticky-note messages on windows are a trend at Heritage Halls. Quarantine apartments are no exception. “They say stuff like, like ‘tested positive wear your mask’ or things like that,” he said. 

Signs made of sticky notes send a message at Heritage Halls building 14. (Preston Crawley)

Off-Campus housing quarantine procedure

Quarantine and safety requirement protocols are less structured for BYU off-campus housing. 

Michael Carter, a BYU freshman living off campus at the Branbury Apartments, said the complex hasn’t given any “strict guidelines as far as preventing the spread of COVID.”

“Residents should coordinate with their landlords to understand their procedures during an outbreak,” BYU Off-Campus Housing Manager Pat Newman said. Individual property owners are responsible for implementing their “individual practices.”

When asked how off-campus housing will respond if COVID-19 numbers continue, Newman said, “The Off-Campus Housing Office will continue to follow the direction provided by our university and local health officials.” This includes encouraging landlords to “implement all local ordinances associated with COVID-19.”

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