JMU has rented blocks of rooms in local hotels in an effort to expand quarantine and isolation beds after a shortage of housing for sick students in early September.
Prior to sending on-campus residents home Sept. 7 and forcing classes online, Caitlyn Read, the university spokesperson and director of communications, said that JMU had 140 quarantine and isolation beds. However, there were limitations on using that isolation space, she said.
“Now that doesn’t necessarily mean we could isolate or quarantine 140 individuals at a time,” Read said. “Some of that space was dedicated for isolation, some of it was dedicated for quarantine, some of it you had to consider where you were housing males and where you were housing females … so it was constantly a puzzle figuring out how to get people into those spaces and maximize those spaces.”
Read said that isolation space was reserved for those that’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 and can be around others who’ve tested positive, while quarantine spaces are for possible cases that haven’t yet been diagnosed.
At its last Board of Visitors meeting, JMU announced that it began renting out blocks of rooms in local hotels for student quarantine space, including the Sleep Inn on Evelyn Byrd Avenue. Read said that JMU has since expanded its quarantine and isolation space to 595 beds as of Sept. 23.
“We have been using spaces on campus, we have been using spaces in the community and local hotels,” Read said. “It does include at least four, at this point, local hotels who have given the university space for isolation or quarantine.”
Read said the hotels would be used for quarantined students only.
She said JMU decided to expand into these local hotels as space on campus was finite, and once it reached capacity, it recognized it needed to add more space.
Read said that JMU decided early on not to quarantine students in place, unlike many other universities, though Read didn’t mention any specific schools. Since many students had decided not to return to the residence halls, there’s been an expansion on the ability of quarantine in place, Read said.
“So for students who are alone in their rooms, have semi-private bathrooms … those students will be able to quarantine in place, should they have to.” Read said.
There are 1,430 students who’d be available to quarantine in place, creating over 2,000 isolation or quarantine spaces available, Read said.
Sarah Moulden, a freshman music education major, had to quarantine in her dorm after someone in her hall tested positive early in September.
“It was a little scary because my roommate is potentially high risk … but we were feeling fine, and the person who tested positive was feeling fine,” Moulden said. “It was a little stressful at first and scary; we were more nervous for our friend.”
Despite living in a hall-style dorm with a shared bathroom, Moulden said that since they weren’t experiencing severe symptoms, the university recommended quarantining in place to save those spaces for students with more significant exposure to COVID-19.
“Most of our floor was in some sort of quarantine because they were in contact with someone,” Moulden said. “When we did have to use the bathroom, we would wear our mask and leave our dorm and go check in the bathroom to see how many people were in there … We would only use the bathroom if there was one or two in there and then shower at really weird times of the day when no one was in the bathroom.”
Chris Simpson, the regional director of operations for the Sleep Inn, said that the hotel is working alongside JMU to coordinate how it’d operate when students would be quarantined.
“It’s something that we’re working through, but JMU will be here on property, they will be deep cleaning and sanitizing the rooms that are being occupied by the students,” Simpson said.
He said that JMU working on the property wouldn’t impact the hotel staff’s employment and that they weren’t planning on conducting any layoffs. Simpson said no staff members voiced concerns about coming into contact with possible cases of COVID-19 as of Sept. 24.
“We have a few properties in town, so we have options for staff members to work at other properties,” Simpson said.
Read said JMU was looking at substantial budget cuts after operating budget reductions, in part because of expenditures related to COVID-19. She said those were costs JMU was happy to incur if it meant keeping people on campus safe.
Read said that JMU has frozen hiring, raises, bonuses, prohibited travel and stopped discretionary expenses since March. JMU has continued to look at other options but hasn’t made any further decisions other than what they have in place, she said.
“The general assembly is currently in special session … so we don’t know if possibly in the next couple of weeks we may get additional funding,” Read said. “We also don’t know enrollment, so enrollment is a huge piece of our budget, and until Oct. 10, we’re not going to know what enrollment looks like clearly.”
Simpson said that when JMU approached the Sleep Inn, he was more than willing to help.
“We value the relationship we’ve had with JMU over the years,” Simpson said. “When they called and told us their need and desire to get students back in the class where they belong, we wanted to support them in any way we could.”
Contact Ashlyn Campbell at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.