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Northeastern University asks students with COVID to self-isolate inside dorms

Northeastern University leaders are ending the school’s isolated on-campus housing program, saying it’s time to rethink COVID-19 and how to handle it.

“We need to understand how to live with it, not how to hide from it,” said Michael Armini, senior vice president of external affairs at Northeastern University and co-chair of the school’s COVID-19 task force.

Last semester, when a student tested positive for COVID-19, he moved into a separate dorm and recuperated away from roommates and friends. But this year, Northeastern is asking students to self-isolate inside dorms and apartments alongside roommates — a move that has left many students uncomfortable and worried about their health.

Armini said the school is moving away from isolation housing because of the protection offered by vaccines and boosters.

“I think people need to change their thinking from 2020 and into 2022 where everyone is vaccinated and boosted on campus,” he said.

All North East students and staff must show proof of full vaccination and a COVID-19 booster by January 18.

But some undergraduates living in dorms are concerned about the change, pointing to growing evidence that vaccines are less effective at preventing infection against the highly contagious omicron variant, though they still protect against disease. serious.

“I’m scared to go use my kitchen,” said Jacob Barrett, a fourth-year communications and business major. “I have a shared apartment with three other people and I’m afraid to go into my kitchen because I don’t want [COVID-19].”

Barrett is a member of ResLife, the residential assistant staff that manages and mentors dorms full of younger students. Residential Assistants, or RAs, are required to perform periodic room checks, arbitrate interpersonal conflicts among dorm residents, and provide in-person programs to facilitate bonding among students.

Barrett said students are not required to share a positive coronavirus test with building staff due to health privacy protections.

“How do we know that when we go to check a room or check something, what’s the guarantee that the resident doesn’t have COVID?” said Barrett. “It’s just very scary to me.”

Northeast freshman Ashley DiLorenzo said she was trying to figure out the rationale for the university’s decision to end isolation housing, but had unanswered questions about the distancing protocols.

“The dorms are so small. I understand you wear masks while in your room, but are you going to wear a mask to sleep? Because those beds, I don’t know if they’re 6 feet apart,” DiLorenzo said.

DiLorenzo worries about exposure and transmission in crowded shared bathrooms, dorms and dining rooms. She said there was no way of knowing if the 18-year-old at the next table was getting around self-isolation.

“I think for people living in such close quarters, like almost all freshmen right now, it’s pretty irresponsible and very scary for those of us who are going to have to deal with it,” said DiLorenzo.

According to Northeastern University spokeswoman Renata Nyul, the school will distribute KN95 masks to residential assistants and their supervisors today and tomorrow. Health experts have advised using these higher quality masks to protect against the omicron variant.

Across town, Boston University told GBH News that it continue to to provide isolation housing for students and provide a free one-month supply of KN95 masks to all students and staff in the community who want them.

Cassandra Pierre, an epidemiologist and medical director of public health programs at Boston Medical Center, said she’s glad to see Boston University taking serious precautions against the omicron variant. She shares the concerns of students in the North East about the end of an isolation housing option.

“Even though people like to talk about omicron as if it were [a cold], that’s just not the case,” Pierre said.

She said the North East’s vaccination and booster mandates are important and effective.

“However, everyone in the student orbit in their networks and their social networks, and where the professors orbit and their social networks have had all their shots,” she said.

As of fall 2020, about two-thirds of the Northeast’s more than 15,000 undergraduate students live off-campus, with many moving to nearby neighborhoods of Roxbury, Mission Hill, and Jamaica Plain.

Pierre said the student diaspora in the surrounding neighborhoods, along with the existence of immunocompromised students who are still vulnerable to the virus, create unequal conditions for protection. She also wants to live fear-free from COVID-19, but said any slowdown in this current outbreak doesn’t necessarily signal the end of the pandemic.

“We kind of hoped after delta that we would enter a period of relative stability where as highly vaccinated individuals we could escape even having to worry about infection and work disruptions at school. And that didn’t happen.