COVID-19 and Student Housing

COVID-19 and Student Housing

Returning to college and university campuses during the COVID-19 era is a matter that extends well beyond classrooms and lecture halls. Shared spaces—especially those that students call home—are also important aspects of helping ensure everyone’s health and safety. Whether you live in a residence hall, apartment, fraternity or sorority housing, or a shared rental home, there are a number of smart tactics you and your roommates can use to limit your risk of infection.

DO:

  • Adopt the habit of washing hands or using hand sanitizer every time anyone enters your dwelling.
  • Designate and separate personal items.
    • Get your own water bottle, cup, and dinnerware and clean these items with soap and hot water.  Disposable items can also be an option, but if you choose that approach, try to find utensils and utensils and dinnerware that are biodegradable and compostable.
    • Keep toothbrushes and other hygiene items in their own bag or container as opposed to left out on countertops or medicine cabinets.
    • Select your own “private” shelf in refrigerators and/or pantries.
    • Have your own supply of masks or face coverings. See this article on proper wear and care of face masks.
  • Create your own “private space” to whatever extent possible.
    • Consider a folding-panel room divider for small spaces.
    • Keep the door to your room closed and off-limits to visitors.
    • If you do not have a private bathroom, keep bathroom and hygiene items in your room or in a sealed/closed container when not in use.
  • Maintain physical (“social”) distancing as much as reasonable
    • Watch television while remaining 6 feet apart.
    • If you use a shared bathroom, take turns in the bathroom or leave sufficient space between yourself and roommates/hall mates.
    • If your residence hall or fraternity/sorority has created bathroom “appointment times” or “designated groups” for bathroom groups, follow the rules!
    • Avoid gathering and crowding of shared spaces like laundry rooms and hall kitchen facilities.
    • At times when physical distancing is impossible to maintain, wear a mask, even if you are indoors.
    • Since you cannot wear a mask while eating/drinking, create dining spaces with 6 feet of physical distancing. Whenever possible, think about eating outdoors!
  • Set up shared cleaning responsibilities.
    • Clean high-touch and shared areas like doorknobs, light switches, faucets, refrigerator handles, kitchen cabinets, microwaves, and TV remotes.
      • Regularly wipe down all surfaces with disinfectant cleaners or a bleach solution (one cap full per quart of water). Aim for at least once every 24 hours—this is a good responsibility to switch off so everyone gets a break in between turns.
    • Clean the bathroom daily—including sink, toilet, shower/bathtub.
    • Keep disinfectant wipes or sprays near entry ways or in shared vehicles.
  • Agree to adhere to any reporting procedures in place by the university for individuals who are sick or exhibiting symptoms – OR – make an agreement that each roommate will have themselves tested as soon as possible if they feel ill or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Talk about your concerns with your roommate(s) and make sure you have emergency contact information for their families or loved ones in case you need to contact them.
  • Maintain open communications with your resident advisor (RA), house manager or “parent”, apartment management, or landlord.

DON’T:

  • Share food, beverages, cups, or dinnerware.
  • Leave food/drink messes for roommates to clean up.
  • Enter your roommate’s room/bathroom/vehicle or other space without their permission – especially if you are not feeling well.
  • Invite guests into your room or apartment. Meet up in an outdoor environment instead.
  • Try to hide illness from your roommate, RA, or other students.
  • Assume you’re too young/healthy to get infected. COVID-19 infects people of all ages.
  • Smoke or vape in shared spaces—these behaviors are associated with more serious illness, even for those who are exposed second hand.
  • Make excuses about not following university protocol, including mask use and physical distancing.
  • Leave jackets, shoes, and clothing that has been outside lying on couches, countertops, chairs or other shared spaces. Consider getting or using a coat-rack or hooks for keeping these items by the front door, rather than dragging them through the house.
  • Engage in high-risk activities like concerts, going to the gym, or attending church services without speaking to roommates first to establish “ground rules” for managing risk.
  • Host parties in your room or apartment. Find suitable social activities to participate in outside your home.
  • Keep things bottled up. If you have concerns, make sure you express them to your roommates, or, if necessary, to RAs, apartment managers, or other housing authorities who may be able to help.

While living at home, including during COVID-19 restrictions, you likely spent a lot of time in close contact with family members—even those that worked outside the home. It may seem like the risks at college are the same. But the truth is that even under the best scenarios, with plenty of social distancing in place, college students encounter anywhere between dozens to hundreds of people per day just during daily activities. That means everyone must agree to put in a little extra effort to minimize everyone’s risk. It may mean being more selective about roommates or making a change in housing choices. It also may be inconvenient at times, but if everyone tries to do their part, it can minimize risk for your entire “household.”

See CDC recommendations for living in shared housing.