Jesse Skolnik did everything the University of Maryland policy website told him to do when he tested positive for COVID-19 a few weeks into the fall semester.
The sophomore government and politics major called the university’s HEAL line to report his positive case and left a message to inquire about housing while he quarantined. However, the university could not offer him temporary housing because he is not an international student or someone that lives across the country.
Skolnik lives about seven hours away in New York. He said the HEAL line representatives told him that students who test positive for COVID-19 can’t quarantine in regular on-campus housing, and so they have to go home if they live a six to eight hour driving distance away from the university.
“There was so much stress and time of my parents driving back and forth and money and just disruption to my life and my suitemates lives that just I don’t feel was necessary,” he said. “It just feels pretty cruel.”
In an interview with The Diamondback, university President Darryll Pines said in this stage of the pandemic, the university no longer has regular COVID-19 housing, but can make exceptions for students who live out of the country or in a state that is not feasible to drive to.
“We are making some individual accommodations for certain students that would have no other choice,” Pines said.
Skolnik said university support for students with COVID-19 has not been clear and he did not fully understand that he could not get isolation housing until he did research online.
Rachel Fitz, a junior mechanical engineering major, said she was “lucky” because she has a car on campus. She was able to drive herself home to quarantine in New Jersey when she tested positive for COVID-19.
When Fitz got sick and told her professors, one of them sent her information about where to report her test and that she had to isolate at home.
Some students had more extreme situations when they did not know what to do about housing during their illness, such as one Reddit user who said they lived in their car during their quarantine.
While Fitz felt she had an easier situation because of her resources, she said it is “unrealistic” for everyone to go home if they test positive.
“It would be best if they still had one dorm building or a floor in a building for people who are positive and can’t go home,” Fitz said.
Both Skolnik and Fitz said they wish the university’s COVID-19 dashboard was still active as a resource for community members.
“I tried looking it up at some point and realized it wasn’t there anymore and I was just kind of shocked,” Skolnik said.
Fitz said she wants to use the dashboard as a measure of when to wear her mask now that the campus mask mandate is no longer in effect.
Skolnik said he feels like the university was handling the pandemic well last year and does not know why they had to make so many changes this semester.
“I don’t see why they tried they fix something that wasn’t broken,” he said.
This story has been updated.