What Is It Like to Be Quarantined on Campus?

Coronavirus cases are spiking across the United States, with many college and university campuses being identified as hotspots. It’s become abundantly clear that it is near impossible for higher education institutions to provide an entirely safe and risk-free campus, which is why many have cordoned off dormitories and booked up hotel floors to provide quarantine locations for college students who have been exposed or tested positive for COVID-19.

Coronavirus in Higher Education 

As of this writing, there are approximately 214,000+ cases from over 1,600 colleges in the U.S. Most of these cases have been announced since students began returning to campus for the fall semester, and the New York Times explains that more than 50 colleges have reported at least 1,000 cases throughout the pandemic, and more than 375 colleges have reported at least 100 cases. 

NY Times COVID Tracker Map Higher Ed

Now, schools are scrambling to mitigate the spread of the disease on campus and in surrounding communities, with digital learning, social distancing regulations, and quarantine spaces. 

The Solution for COVID-19 Positive Students: Quarantine 

Many higher education institutions have faced difficulties amid efforts to bring students back on campus. The uptick in COVID-19 cases across the United States has impacted students on campus; administrators have set aside special dormitories, as well as rented out off-campus apartments and hotel rooms to provide isolation beds for infected students and quarantine units for those who may have been exposed, according to the New York Times.

Public health officials have explained that it’s better to quarantine students as opposed to sending them home, where they could infect their family and friends, or transportation workers. While quarantining students seems like the most logical and best option from a public health perspective, the policies for some colleges and universities have actually ended up putting students and staff at risk. From slow test result times to improper living conditions, some colleges and universities have failed to institute adequate self-isolation for quarantine policies. 

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For example, one student was waiting for his COVID-19 test results and told the Times that he was sent back to his regular dorm where he could have infected his roommate. Other students have come forward to describe filthy rooms, unfortunate food rations, a lack of furniture, chaotic procedures and minimal monitoring from their college or university. Many individuals went days - even weeks - without hearing from a campus official while in quarantine. 


Another student, who was moved to a quarantine dorm - for those considered at risk of exposure - to a COVID-19 isolation dorm, said she found little to no support from her school. “I felt like everyone was only interested in how I was affecting others, like who I came in contact with, and then I was just left to be sick,” she told the New York Times. The campus health center, administrators, and campus officials all neglected to check in with students in isolation dorms. Instead, officials should consider offering routine health check-ins or thank students for complying with coronavirus protocol to keep the community safe. 

How to Plan for Quarantining College Students 

According to some university officials, taking care of exposed and infected students is a complex process that requires dozens of employees across multiple higher education departments. For this reason, internal communication is crucial in making sure that all employees are on the same page and can provide effective support to students who have contracted COVID-19.

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While coordinating and creating an effective plan for quarantining students can be a lengthy process, the following recommendations from the State of Minnesota bring some clarity for what is expected for higher education and college student quarantines.

  • Have spaces set aside for both sick and/or quarantined students, such as dedicated floors or residence halls, hotels, and off-campus apartments and housing. Keep these locations physically separated from other residential student rooms.
  • Consider having in reserve isolation and/or quarantine accommodations for between 2.5% and 5% of the population who lives on campus.
  • Provide clear guidance for students going into isolation (students who have been diagnosed with COVID-19) and for students going into quarantine (students who have been exposed but don’t yet have symptoms). This information can be shared by leveraging a mass notification solution:
    • Ideally an individual in isolation or quarantine should have their own bedroom and bathroom.
    • Students in isolation or quarantine must have access to alternative modes of course instruction.
    • Isolated and quarantined students should have access to supplies such as a thermometer, face coverings, sanitizing wipes, tissues, soap, hand sanitizer, and toiletries.
    • Students in isolation or quarantine should have their food delivered, and access to laundry services; health checks should be virtual when possible.
    • Staff who need to interact with students should have appropriate personal protective equipment.
    • Students in isolation or quarantine should not have any visitors.
  • Set expectations for parents that an option may be for their student (or child) to move home for the duration of isolation or quarantine, although not recommended by public health officials.

How Colleges and Universities can Support Quarantined Students 

Colleges and universities must support their students in isolation and quarantine, and keeping clear and open lines of communication is just one way to do so. By leveraging a mass notification solution, administrators can efficiently communicate with segmented lists of students – those who are in isolation and in quarantine – to provide clarity on what to expect as they enter their isolation and quarantine dorms. Officials can also continue to routinely distribute information about testing sites or campus health centers. 

Users can also set up an SMS opt-in keyword and require students to text the word, for example, “QUARANTINE” to a shortcode. That way, students in quarantine can be automatically enrolled in specific messaging relevant to their situation. Administrators can share virtual support options, information on food, and more with those in quarantine.

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A campus safety app is another great solution to assist and support students in quarantine. Within the app, administrators can store crucial information and resources that can help isolated students. The app can also be used to conduct virtual wellness check-ins via a polling feature. This way, officials can ensure quarantined students understand procedure, and have access to food, medicine, or other resources while isolating to mitigate the spread of the virus. 

Additionally, an anonymous two-way tip texting tool can raise situational awareness, allowing students, faculty, or staff to submit confidential information to campus safety. The app feature allows students to anonymously report concerns about their situation, whether it's an unclean dormitory or a fellow student failing to adhere to quarantine policies. The tips would allow college and university officials to identify issues and address them issues more quickly.

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Tara Gibson
Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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