Colleges Scale Back, Eliminate Quarantine Dorms for Fall Semester

As federal and state guidance shifts, colleges' approach to housing students with COVID-19 varies widely.

Published August 24, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
Colleges Scale Back, Eliminate Quarantine Dorms for Fall Semester
COVID-19
Photo by Catherine McQueen / Moment / Getty Images

  • Some colleges are scaling back quarantine housing for the fall semester.
  • Colleges' approach to quarantine housing is also affected by state and local guidance.
  • Some states, cities, and counties have lifted COVID-19 restrictions over the summer.

As federal and state public health agencies relax COVID-19 guidance, colleges are scaling back or completely removing on-campus isolation housing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now considers a college dorm to be a "lower risk congregate setting due to the lower risk of severe health outcomes (such as hospitalization and death) associated with young adults."

Colleges should consider creating cohorts within dorms to limit the spread of COVID-19 and make contact tracing easier, limit the capacity of shared spaces and limit building access to outside visitors, according to the CDC.

The CDC also recently relaxed its COVID-19 quarantine recommendations. The CDC now recommends that people exposed to COVID-19 wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5 rather than quarantine.

Many colleges have already relaxed masking and social-distancing requirements as emergency measures are scaled back across the United States. But how colleges plan to handle housing students who come down with COVID-19 differs from institution to institution.

Michigan State University, for instance, offered quarantine housing last year but won't do so this year.

Emily Guerrant, a spokesperson for Michigan State, said the university's vaccine mandate is key to keeping students safe in residence halls. The university had a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students living in residence halls and off campus last year. And that mandate will continue for the 2022-23 academic year.

Guerrant said the university's quarantine housing was "utilized consistently" last year, but the full number of beds wasn't used. The university plans to use an on-campus hotel for quarantine if needed, she said.

"We've been encouraging them to make plans with their roommates on how they want to handle it," Guerrant said.

“Many colleges have already relaxed masking and social-distancing requirements as emergency measures are scaled back across the United States. But how colleges plan to handle housing students who come down with COVID-19 differs from institution to institution.”

Guerrant noted that Michigan State, like many universities across the country, was completely remote during the 2020-21 academic year. She said last year's return to campus saw "peaks and valleys" of COVID-19 transmission with occasional mask mandates.

"We didn't have any students or faculty members who died from the virus, and so we feel very confident with our approach," she said.

Other institutions still plan to offer quarantine housing, but on a scaled-back basis.

David Souleles, director of the COVID-19 Response Team at the University of California, Irvine, told BestColleges his university will have less quarantine housing available this year compared to last year.

That decrease comes after health guidance changed in California, and the university no longer needs to quarantine close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19, Souleles said.

"That's definitely been helpful in terms of the level of support and number of people we need to manage at any given point in time," Souleles said.

Robust testing played a role in keeping campus housing safe, Souleles said. He also noted that the entire University of California system has a vaccine mandate, and he said the University of California, Irvine had a student vaccination rate of more than 97% last fall.

"We've been very fortunate throughout the pandemic," Souleles said. "We haven't seen serious illnesses resulting in hospitalizations or anything like that."

The university's high vaccination rate "definitely plays a part in creating a safer campus environment overall," Souleles said.

College's fall plans are also influenced by local rules around isolation. Los Angeles County, for instance, requires an isolation period of between 5-10 days for people who test positive for COVID-19.

Los Angeles-based Occidental College will move on-campus students who test positive to an isolation room, according to the college's website, although students who live in a single room with their own bathroom will be allowed to stay in their room.

And if all isolation rooms are occupied, students will be allowed to isolate in their room. And their roommates will be allowed to stay while "following all masking and exposure management guidelines."