What it’s like to live in West Campus during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Three UT students leave the West Campus apartment complex 26 West. There have been efforts to form a West Campus neighborhood association to make sure that the neighborhood inhabited primarily by students is not neglected.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Garabedian | Daily Texan Staff
After President Gregory Fenves announced that residence halls would be closing, students started to leave campus in droves, packing up their belongings and heading for home.

But some students remain in West Campus and will stay in their apartments for the rest of the semester. Although it’s early, they said it already feels like a ghost town.

Chris Enriquez is a public relations junior and transfer student who lives at The Nine at West Campus. He said there hasn’t been a big panic in the area, but it is very quiet.

“I’ve lived here during the summertime and past breaks, and it’s a similar vibe,” Enriquez said. “It’s quiet — a little bit of an eerie quiet.”

For students whose homes are a plane ride away, staying in Austin feels like the safest option. Josh Antell, who is from New York, said he probably wouldn’t be leaving his apartment at The Nine to go home anytime soon.

“Corona is four times worse in New York than here, and I would be traveling into JFK airport where it’s a dead zone, so that would be a problem,” public relations junior Antell said. “I am fortunate that my parents pay my rent, but all my roommates have left.”

Antell has lived in Austin for three years and likened the usually bustling scene of Austin to that of his home city. But in the past couple of weeks, he said the difference between the Austin that he knew and the ghost town it is now is striking.

“Everything is (usually) so lively, day or night, kind of like New York City,” Antell said. “I always felt like there was stuff going on in Austin, and now, it’s just dead. It’s crazy to see it from that perspective.”

Although Antell said he rarely leaves his apartment, the absence of the usual traffic and pedestrians is unmistakable on the 4-mile Bird ride he takes to get groceries.

“I will sometimes see maybe two cars per trip that I go on,” Antell said. “It’s just so different. I feel like I’m in the midst of a purge. At night especially, … it just feels like a movie.”

In light of the pandemic, Emma Kjaer, journalism and advertising sophomore, left the apartment at 26 West that she shared with her roommates, relocating to a family-owned condo on the edge of West Campus. Kjaer said staying in Austin is probably the safest option for her.

“I'm originally from California, and they're currently on lockdown, so I don't want to go home,” Kjaer said. “I’m the baby in the family, so they are worried about me being by myself, but they know I can handle it.”

Kjaer said it is the little things, such as driving through a deserted campus or parking in an empty garage, that are the biggest reminder of how different things are.

“Never before have I stopped at a stoplight and thought, ‘This is really long,’ because there’s so many cars around,” Kjaer said. “I don’t really pay attention to that. But now I’m the only car on the road, and I’m sitting at a red light thinking, is it worth it to just be parked here? It’s small things like that that make a difference.”