Michigan State University is designating one of its residence halls as isolation housing for students infected with or exposed to COVID-19 during the academic year, according to an internal email.
Last week, the university’s Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) division sent an email noting the change to students assigned to live in Akers Hall, a dormitory located on the east portion of the campus.
The announcement comes just weeks before fall semester classes begin Sept. 2.
Akers Hall is unique in that it contains two- or four-person suites with separate living areas and non-communal bathrooms. It was picked for the conversion because of its large resident capacity and those in-room bathrooms, said Dan Olsen, the university’s deputy spokesperson.
Students living on campus in the fall who test positive for COVID-19 will be asked to self-isolate in the university’s designated housing or to return to off-campus homes or their permanent residence, Olsen said.
He noted that university officials believe they have enough space to accommodate a transferral of residents from Akers Hall to other halls.
“It is critically important that as we plan for a return of students to campus that we make available these isolation rooms to help mitigate risk to others and provide a safe place for students who test positive to recover without further compromising the health of others,” Olsen wrote in an email to the Advance. “Isolation rooms are one of many important and necessary precautionary measures the university is taking to help keep Spartans safe as we plan for all possible scenarios this fall.”
Some parents and students expressed concerns about the changeover on an MSU parents’ page and on an MSU subreddit. The Akers residence hall ordinarily houses a number of incoming freshmen, underclassmen and international students.
“Does anyone else find it INSANE that some students are like ‘whatevz, we have a covid ward on campus now?’” one Reddit user wrote. “Why are you even there?”
“Surely they don’t have enough room on campus to move everyone out,” another user wrote.
Hall resident assistants displaced
Akers Hall resident assistants were also notified via a text message that RHS would no longer assign them to the hall because of the conversion.
RHS plans to transfer some RA assignments to halls with existing vacancies. But there are currently not enough open slots to reassign all Akers RAs, according to the text. RAs will either be reassigned or can choose to be added to an “alternate pool” for a spring 2021 position. Those reassignments offers will go out to a portion of RAs in early August.
“This may feel abrupt and it is,” the text reads. “This modification was just determined … this decision may cause you anxiety, anger, frustration, fear and may bring a significant amount of uncertainty into your plans for this coming academic year.”
In previous email updates, MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. indicated classes will be held both in-person and online. Students also have a “Learn from Home” option, which means they can apply to be released from a fall 2020 on-campus housing contract if it would be more convenient for them to complete coursework while living with a parent or legal guardian.
MSU also is requiring face coverings to be worn indoors and outdoors on campus.
All in-person instruction at Michigan State will end on Nov. 25. The last three weeks of the semester, including final exams, will go online. Due to a potential resurgence of COVID-19 cases in December — plus flu season getting into full swing — students can choose to go home for the Thanksgiving holiday and not return to campus until the spring semester.