Rianna Bowers, a freshman at UM, tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 2.
She thought it was just a cold. So she went to Curry Health Center and ended up receiving a positive COVID-19 test. She wasn’t a close contact, though, so when it came back positive, Curry tested her again. The second test came back positive as well.
Bowers was sent back to her dorm room and told to pack what she would need and wait for a call from the University. Within an hour, UM dropped off a car for her to transport her things to Aber Hall, which was then being used as COVID-19 housing.
At Aber, Bowers was put onto the girls’ floor with other students who had tested positive for COVID-19. There was also a boys’ floor in Aber. She said the University provided students with a COVID-19 meal plan, where they received a daily hot lunch and a weekly box of food that consisted of frozen meals and snacks.
Bowers said the students in Aber developed a sense of camaraderie, painting together and watching movies to pass the time.
“It was nice to hang out with people and not just be depressed by yourself,” Bowers said.
But since Bowers was housed in Aber Hall in October, Aber has been undergoing a conversion to office spaces at the University, meaning it is no longer being used as COVID-19 housing.
Ryan Martin, UM Housing’s quarantine and isolation manager, said students who live in campus housing and need a place to quarantine this semester are placed in apartments at the University Villages or Lewis and Clark apartments. He said these apartments can be anywhere from studios to three-bedroom apartments, while in Aber, the University could house between 10 and 15 students on a floor.
Martin said these apartments were also used last semester, but the University started using Aber to host students who had tested positive for COVID-19 when the available apartments reached 70% capacity. The apartments were being used for both COVID-19 positive patients, and those considered close contacts. Aber was only used for students who tested positive.
This semester, only the apartments are available for students living in university housing who test positive or are considered close contacts for COVID-19. Martin said 56 apartments were available, which equates to 182 beds. He added that the peak use of quarantine and isolation apartments this semester has been about 20%, well under the peak of 70% that caused Aber to open for use in the fall.
Carson Burrill, another freshman, is currently in one of the quarantine and isolation apartments.
Burrill, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 25, said his needs are all being met by the University. Similar to Bowers, Burrill said the University provides him a hot meal for lunch every day and a box of frozen food and snacks each week. He added that the apartment he is in comes equipped with his own room, shower and kitchen.
But he said being there alone has been boring.
The quarantine and isolation apartments lack the sense of community for those who test positive for COVID-19 that Bowers described in Aber Hall.
“You do your schoolwork, but everything else that you would normally do in your day just doesn’t happen,” Burrill said. “You don’t go to the gym, you don’t drive anywhere, or anything like that. There’s just so much extra time and you have no idea how to fill it.”
Martin said that, for mental health reasons, it can be good to have a partner during quarantine. However, he also said the University tries to keep students separate when they are quarantining as close contacts. He explained that once students test positive for COVID-19, they can be placed together. But some close contacts in quarantine test positive while others remain negative.
“We don’t want to increase people’s risk by putting different exposures together,” Martin said.
As for the rest of the semester, Martin said UM is looking to phase apartments designated for COVID-19 housing to be available for rent again. He said this phasing will occur slowly, and the University will adjust as needed based on communications with UM’s COVID-19 response team.
“At the beginning of the year there were a few bumps in the road, but we’ve done better and improved as things have gone on this year,” Martin said.
As of Monday, according to the Missoula City County Health Department’s website, UM had six active cases of COVID-19. The University has had 673 COVID-19 cases associated with it since August.