In preparation for another Spring semester in the COVID-19 pandemic, UF set aside three dorms for COVID-19 positive students to quarantine in, but much of the space went unused as positivity rates fell.
As more students moved onto campus and registered for face-to-face classes, the university moved all of East Hall’s residents out during the Fall to create an additional quarantine facility. The addition of East Hall marked the third quarantine dorm hall at UF, along with Trusler Hall and Riker Hall, which have been available since Fall.
However, the dorms have been used sparsely since January — East Hall hasn’t housed a single student this semester, said UF Health spokesperson Ken Garcia. UF hasn’t decided whether it will reuse the dorms for isolation in the Summer and Fall.
Last semester, 1,289 students stayed in the quarantine dorms for on-campus isolation, Sara Tanner, UF Student Affairs marketing and communications director, wrote in an email. In the Spring, 304 students isolated on campus as of March 25. From the first day of classes Aug. 31 until the last day of exams Dec. 18, 3,390 students tested positive. This semester, 1,870 students have tested positive since Jan. 11.
Kelly Keehan, a 19-year-old UF applied physiology and kinesiology sophomore, said her experience in the quarantine dorms felt mostly quiet. She was contact-traced from a COVID-19 positive student she encountered after an outdoor event. Keehan was sent to Riker Hall from Jan. 12 to Jan. 25 to quarantine.
While there, she would occasionally run into another student in the communal bathroom but otherwise went about her day alone. She filled her time with a daily regimen of schoolwork, Zoom yoga and phone calls with family and friends.
“It's definitely challenging, but I think if you give yourself grace and make sure to still text people and call — FaceTime people throughout the time that you're quarantined it's definitely manageable,” she said.
At its highest this semester, quarantine dorm occupancy stood at 14% Jan. 28 through Jan. 30. It dropped to 1% occupancy between March 2 and March 12 before rising to 7% Sunday, according to the university’s testing dashboard.
As UF mulls over options for upcoming semesters, former East Hall residents miss their old home.
Nicholas Reid, a 19-year-old UF mechanical and aerospace engineering freshman, passes by his old dorm on the way to Gator Corner Dining Center daily. He moved out from East Hall in December along with 155 other residents.
The COVID-19 pandemic decreased social events for on-campus residents, but Reid said East Hall residents stayed social.
“I don’t think UF should have broken up East Hall,” Reid said. “We had a great community there. We still talk to each other, we still hang out and everything but it’s tougher now.”
John Scharff, a 19-year-old UF computer science freshman, also lived in East Hall before moving to Hume.
“It’s thoroughly irritating to not see them use the COVID dorms for what they’re supposed to be,” he said. “That left a very sour taste in my mouth.”
Contact Manny Rea at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ReaManny.
Manny Rea is a journalism sophomore and the current health reporter for The Alligator. He worked as a copy editor in his freshman year before moving over to the Avenue in summer 2020. He likes to listen to dollar-bin records and read comics, and he is patiently waiting to go back to movies and concerts.