Removal of isolation halls raises concerns for students with COVID

OSWEGO, N.Y. – This semester is the first since 2021 where there is no designated hall on SUNY Oswego’s campus where students can isolate themselves while having COVID-19.

Psychology major Charlotte Garber lives on campus and within the first week of classes, a rapid test diagnosed her with COVID.

“It made me feel really bad for my roommate because she could have really gotten sick so I feel like we should have access to that resource (hall),” Garber said.

While doing her best to isolate herself in her dorm, Garber still had to use communal resources, leaving her feeling uneasy.

“Using the bathrooms was kind of awkward,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone to see me.”

Although awkward for Garber, Director of Student Health Services Angie Brown has seen success with students self-isolating in their assigned dorms. 

“Students are isolating in their room, yes with a roommate, but like the flu, we teach them good ventilation, handwashing, and wearing a mask. So far it’s been working okay,” said Brown. 

Moreland Hall was the most recent isolation dorm and before that Oneida Hall on the western side of campus was where students moved if they had COVID.

While it was a difficult decision, Brown admits for the number of cases reported, it was difficult to justify the number of resources used to keep Moreland Hall open.

“The amount of manpower it took to run a hall between healthcare staff, dining staff, and resident hall staff was astronomical,” said Brown.

Something that gave Brown confidence in the decision to remove an isolation dorm is the lack of COVID hot spots she’s seen reported on campus.

“Obviously I’d be more concerned with 10 cases in Oneida hall than one case scattered through campus,” said Brown.

 Statistically Mary Walker is seeing fewer cases of COVID, but that might not be a positive thing.

“I took a test from Walmart. Mary Walker didn’t have any tests at the time. I just got it from Walmart and didn’t say anything to Mary Walker,” said Garber. 

Garber says the reason why she didn’t get tested through Mary Walker was because there were no COVID tests available to her at the start of the year. They’re back, but for how long, is unclear.

“At the beginning of the semester, we didn’t have any because they were coming from the national stockpile, and we were waiting for those to come in but we do have tests now and we will have them for as long as they are available,” said Brown. 

Although Oswego deals with COVID in its own way through testing and reporting, the university still has to adhere to SUNY policies.

“SUNY is like our parent, they give guidelines of rules they want campuses to follow,” said Brown. 

Following the SUNY guidelines, SUNY Oswego is among many other universities in the SUNY system that have entirely removed a hall for students to isolate in, and instead have a few designated rooms throughout campus. 

“I think it’s hard to do a blanket statement because the populations are different. campuses have different volumes. What might work for one school might not work for another,” said Brown. 

Since the discontinuation of the isolation dorms, communication of COVID numbers between Residence Life and Housing and Mary Walker’s health services has ceased. Resident Assistant Ryan Gallagher wishes he was in the know regarding who, and who doesn’t have COVID.

“It’s a little concerning when you think about the way we have to interact with students. In this position, we have to meet with them for different reasons. You hope they would have the courtesy to tell you if they were sick, but that’s no guarantee,” said Gallagher. 

During Gallagher’s training over the summer, very little was mentioned about what to do in a situation where a student would approach them with COVID-19.

“We were told to refer them to Mary Walker and they would give them the information on how to handle it,” said Gallagher.

Despite Gallagher’s concerns with the lack of communication between Residence Life and Mary Walker Facilities, he understands the importance of balancing priorities.

“I do think there is some validity to the idea that it was difficult for them to maintain. I think the quality and management of the Isolation dorms is something they struggled with probably because of how much it takes and the limited resources they have,” said Gallagher. 

If COVID numbers begin to rise again on SUNY Oswego campus, another isolation dorm may open in the future.