On the morning of Monday, Sept. 12, an email was sent to all students living on campus stating that, starting Sept. 14, residence halls would no longer have designated bathrooms for Covid-positive students. The decision was swiftly reversed later that day following student backlash.
The new policy would have allowed Covid-positive students to use any bathroom in their residence hall as long as they are masked. The policy designated 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. as “mask-free hours,” times when Covid-positive students could carry out activities that require them to be unmasked.
Although the initial email did not provide a reason for the shift, in an email statement to The Student, Chief Strategy Officer Kate Salop noted “the increasingly endemic nature of COVID-19” and explained that the policy was intended to alleviate the strain that designated bathrooms were putting on bathrooms in certain residence halls.
“With the move to isolation-in-place, we were looking for a way to balance the demands on residence hall restrooms,” she wrote. “The use of COVID-positive designated restrooms was having a differential impact on residence halls depending on the number and distribution of restrooms.”
Salop also expressed confidence that “students could safely share a restroom with COVID-positive students as long as those students were masked.”
“[T]here is strong evidence that masks provide excellent protection from the virus and that there is now overwhelming evidence that COVID is not transmitted by aerosolized particles that remain in the air,” she wrote. “In addition, most students are choosing to move about their residence halls unmasked and we do not believe that this bathroom policy poses any greater risk of spreading the virus.”
The announcement of the change elicited a strong reaction from students, some of whom took to the campus GroupMe to express their concern. One student started drafting a petition against the new policy, and several noted that they had replied to the email pushing back against the policy.
“I think that people should be able to access the dorm bathrooms at any point in the day, whether they have Covid or whether they don’t have Covid,” Sam Hodges ’23 told The Student. “So for people who don’t have Covid, if you don’t want to risk exposing yourself for whatever reason, [the new policy is] not great. And if you do have Covid, what if … you’re sick [and] you sleep through the morning shift, like you can’t brush your teeth till the afternoon?”
Following the announcement, some residence hall floors even discussed designating a bathroom for Covid-positive students themselves.
Later that afternoon, COVID Project Manager Jerry Roeder, who had sent the original notice, sent another email rolling back the decision to implement the new policy.
“Each time we have introduced new COVID-19 protocols, we have heard a range of responses and understand that members of our community often hold divergent opinions regarding what they believe to be appropriate measures,” he wrote. “We take seriously the objections that have been raised and we will not implement new restroom protocols at this time.”
“Instead, Student Affairs staff will work with each hall to determine how best to designate the restrooms in a way that addresses health concerns while managing the availability and distribution of them in each hall,” he noted.