This fall, the beginning of my first semester at Brown, I had the misfortune of contracting COVID-19. When I tested positive, my first thought was to keep my roommate safe. I called Health Services and asked what options the University had for alternative housing, but to my horror, there were none. If I stayed in my dorm, I would be putting my roommate at high risk of contracting COVID-19. The guidelines provided by Brown were essentially to put on your mask, wash your hands and hope for the best. In order to rectify these inadequacies and give students peace of mind, the University must reinstate a limited amount of isolation housing this year.
As the nation reckons with “pandemic fatigue” and an understandable desire to return to normalcy, Brown is clearly not taking COVID-19 seriously enough. Although disease prevalence nationwide has decreased remarkably compared to 2022, the number of infections detected via wastewater monitoring in Rhode Island began steadily increasing in July 2023.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least five days of isolation for those who are COVID-positive so as to separate “sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.” Yet, the University’s current protocols for students who test positive for COVID-19 are woefully inadequate when compared to this standard. Brown does technically have an isolation policy that claims to follow CDC guidelines, but not enough resources are provided for students to keep their peers safe on campus. Per Health Services, COVID-positive students living on campus are to stay in their dorm room, but no accommodations are provided for roommates of the isolated student to move elsewhere.
This policy also puts the onus on infected students to obtain food by going into crowded dining halls. I’ve known students who were left bedridden due to COVID-19 symptoms, but were forced to fend for themselves and procure their own food at the dining halls — even if that meant potentially exposing others to the virus.
Some even go to the lengths of finding off-campus housing to avoid infecting their roommates, following the University’s suggestion that students can find lodging “with a friend or family (member) who may be in the area.” I am lucky to live close enough to campus that I was able to isolate myself at home. But the lack of support from Brown means that students who can’t move back home or pay for outside housing have to roll the dice and risk spreading the virus to their roommate.
Providing temporary housing for students with COVID-19 would provide peace of mind to the roommates of COVID-positive students as well as reduce the overall infection rate on campus. This is far from impossible — after all, Brown previously provided isolation housing during the pandemic, both on campus and through reserved rooms at the Providence Marriott. When these forms of formal isolation housing were shuttered in the fall of 2022, students found themselves scrambling to find temporary options whenever they or their roommate caught COVID-19. I can personally attest that this is still the case today. While reopening temporary COVID-19 housing would require funding, it would be a worthy investment in the safety of the student body.
No student at Brown wants to be responsible for infecting their roommate with COVID-19. Many of us are willing to make sacrifices to protect the health of others. A reduced version of temporary housing — say, 10 to 20 isolation rooms — would do wonders to meet the needs of the student body. Furthermore, it would provide an equitable way for all students, regardless of their ability to travel or find lodging, to protect their own health as well as the health of those around them. I applaud the University’s efforts to provide a more traditional college experience as the nation returns to pre-COVID policies, but we must not forget our responsibility to keep each other safe.
Victor Chang ’27 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.