‘What about my roommate?’: UHD adopts ‘isolation-in-place’ strategy in dorms, residents worry about infecting roommates

Morgan Severson, News desk editor

When Jester West resident Joel Gomez tested positive for COVID-19 last week, he had a difficult decision to make — isolate back at home and risk getting his grandma sick, or isolate in his dorm and risk getting his roommate sick.  

“I told them I could not go home, so I was gonna have to isolate here,” said Gomez, a medical laboratory science freshman. “At first, I was surprised, because I didn’t know what to expect from the University in terms of how they would take care of COVID. But as soon as they said that I had to stay (in my dorm) I was like, ‘What about my roommate?’”  

After notifying his resident assistant he tested positive, Gomez said he received a call from the COVID-19 response team and was told that University Housing and Dining had no more COVID-19 isolation rooms. Currently, UHD has adopted a strategy called “isolation-in-place,” Shilpa Bakre, University marketing and communications spokesperson, said in an email.  

The strategy outlines a plan for individuals positive with COVID-19 and their noninfected roommate(s) to wear masks while in their room, disinfect surfaces, sleep facing away from each other and take other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The University is continually evaluating its best approaches to optimizing health and safety and managing the needs of those who are infected or exposed to COVID-19,” Bakre said. “(Isolation-in-place) is endorsed as an acceptable alternative to separate isolation by the American College Health Association.” 

While “isolation-in-place” is an alternative to isolation housing, Gomez said he was still concerned about infecting his roommate, friends and hallmates when he uses the communal bathroom. 

“They simply just asked me on the phone, that if I had to, just to try my best to wear a mask when I go to the restroom. … It just doesn’t make sense to me, I cannot keep (my hallmates) safe all the time,” Gomez said. “How am I supposed to be like ‘I just showered and there’s possibly COVID particles?’ … But that is (the) precarious situation that I’m going through right now.”  

Gomez said using the communal bathroom and exposing his hallmates makes him feel guilty. 

“There are people on my floor who we’ve become friends with and now that they know I have COVID, they do feel like they might be in danger,” Gomez said. “I definitely feel bad that they have to go into the restroom too with their mask.” 

Gomez’s roommate, Eleazar Gonzalez, said he is currently staying in a friend’s dorm to avoid being infected. 

“It feels like my health isn’t really a priority for them, that’s what I’m feeling, that they don’t really care about me,” biochemistry freshman Gonzalez said. “They don’t care if I get sick at all.” 

Under the University’s “isolation-in-place” guidance, noninfected roommates are still able to go to in-person class. However, the strategy also states for a noninfected roommate to minimize time in the dorm room and study or hang out outside. Noninfected roommates should wear a mask and test often, according to the strategy. 

Gomez said he was told that UHD would deliver three meals a day until he is no longer isolated. However, on his first day of isolation, he said nobody delivered food until 1 p.m. 

“(UHD) just gave me a bag full of food,” Gomez said. “They’re like ‘That should last until Friday.’” 

The University delivered the bag of food on Wednesday, which he said contained water, snacks, frozen meals and premade sandwiches. 

“It’s not exactly what I imagined when they told me they would be bringing three meals a day, but at least they did deliver,” Gomez said. 

UHD declined requests for comment when The Daily Texan asked about their capacity for COVID-19 isolation rooms, how long these rooms have been full and if the capacity is the same or smaller than what it was in previous years of the pandemic.  

Gonzalez said UHD not having enough COVID-19 isolation rooms is “definitely a big error.” 

“For (UHD), it’s pretty much easier to just tell me ‘Stay in your room,’ than to have me moved into a completely different isolation room,” Gomez said. “I’m not quite sure if they do have any isolation rooms and they’re full or if they’re just not even doing that anymore, which they definitely should. There’s definitely a better way to take care (of) this.”