Inside the Process of Residential Life’s COVID-19 Regulations

Image courtesy of Rebecca Elliott.

PLNU President Bob Brower’s community email on Oct. 16 explained the university’s response to the on-campus COVID-19 cases that were reported earlier that week. The email addressed the initial number of positive cases (three), where the original clusters were located (Klassen, Hendricks and Young halls), the number of tests the university conducted (367), how many of those results they received back at that point (72%) and the number of positive tests from that batch (five). The letter was packed with data about COVID-19 testing, but one day prior, many on-campus residents were confused.

On Oct. 15, many students received communication from the Wellness Center about a mandated quarantine for all freshman residence halls which would last through the weekend. 

Hours later, the Wellness Center notified on-campus residents via email that the previous communication was a mistake and the mandate was revoked. There was little explanation for the miscommunication and why it occurred. 

Jake Gilbertson, dean of students and director of residential life at PLNU, said the mishap was an administrative error. Orange slips of paper intended for students who were meant to shelter in place (if they or their roommate tested positive) were accidentally handed to all students after they completed their COVID-19 test. 

“Emails went out literally hours after clarifying [the miscommunication],” Gilbertson said. “So hopefully that helped alleviate it, but certainly for a few hours there was a good amount of misinformation and confusion.”

“We’re all learning a lot as we are responding to these things,” said Hendricks Hall Resident Director (RD) Bethany Denney. “There’s no blueprint for this. I do think that it will go far better if we have another cluster of positive cases like that again.” 

Updates and information regarding the coronavirus travel through a long list of staff and faculty before reaching students. The name at the top of the list is California Gov. Gavin Newsom, based on his Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Newsom’s plan governs the actions of the San Diego County Public Health Department.

“Since the pandemic started, we are in contact with the health department virtually daily,” says Caye Smith, vice president for student development.  “Since February, PLNU has invested literally thousands of hours in planning appropriate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the formation of over a dozen working groups which address a myriad of issues.”

Smith said, “We have a complex series of events which include: notification of San Diego County Health Department, notification of student, placing student in pre-identified isolation housing, ordering and delivering food to student, daily medical contact with student, educating student regarding COVID-19 and self-care. This series of events includes: Wellness Center, Residential Life and often other departments.” 

According to Austin Holmes, assistant RD of Young Hall, the Wellness Center informs Residential Life about a student’s status — isolation or quarantine — based on the test results and circumstances surrounding each case. RDs are responsible for helping affected students move into their isolation room. 

Denney said, “[Residential Life] also works with custodial services to sanitize their room [and] Sodexo to prepare meals. We send Sodexo the number of meals we need to be prepared, they get it ready for us, Resident Advisors (RAs) deliver the meals without exposure.”

Residential Life, the Wellness Center and the nursing department meet weekly to formulate adaptations when county-wise changes occur.

When RDs learned campus would open to students this fall, they had limited time to prepare RAs for their position amid the COVID-19 precautions. 

“There was one full day of RA training for [COVID-19],” Denney said.  “But the name of the game with the training is adaptability. Say there’s a spike in the county, [that] impacts how things are done here.”

Hendricks Hall RA Sammy Lambert said despite the quick preparation, there was clear communication with the other departments at PLNU.

“ResLife and RDs communicated very closely with RAs about COVID-19,” Lambert said. “We had a big briefing with the head nurse at PLNU who shared how we needed to make sure students followed regulations.” 

RAs were also informed on statistics and how PLNU would be affected if an outbreak occurred. If a student in Lambert’s hall contracted the virus, her RD (Denney) would notify her. The RA’s duty was then to make sure students in their hall followed the guidelines.

Lambert said one of the most convincing reasons for students to follow guidelines is when they or someone they know are quarantined due to the coronavirus. Denney described it as a mindset shift. She said, “We cannot wait to make an important decision until it is just impacting us.”

Of the San Diego universities, San Diego State University reported a total of 1,520 cases, University of San Diego reported 182 and PLNU reported 73.

San Diego moved back into the purple tier on Nov. 14, six days before on-campus residents moved out.

Written by: Charis Johnston and Katie Morris