Tufts began sending COVID-19-positive students to isolate in the Homewood Suites hotel in Arlington as The Mods neared full capacity on Tuesday, Feb. 15.
Executive Director of Media Relations Patrick Collins revealed how capacity and maintenance issues in The Mods led Tufts to begin housing COVID-19-positive students in the hotel.
“On Tuesday, we reached a point where a large majority of our modular housing assignments were either occupied or in need of cleaning/maintenance,” Collins wrote in an email to the Daily. “At this point, we began to assign students to another isolation location that the university had set up in anticipation of a surge in cases.”
Collins explained that some students will continue to be assigned to the Mods as spaces open up.
“The situation is dynamic, as while we have been assigning students to the Homewood Suites when needed, we have also regained spaces in the mods when students are released from isolation and rooms get cleaned,” he wrote.
According to Collins, The Mods were at 80-90% capacity for most of last week. There are currently 134 total rooms in the three modular buildings, including a small number of rooms that are closed for maintenance.
Collins explained that Tufts made agreements with both the Homewood Suites in Arlington and the AC Hotel in Cambridge in anticipation of potential overflow in The Mods and will evaluate whether to renew those leases as needed. Currently, Tufts has 85 beds set aside at the Homewood Suites, and they are at approximately 50% capacity.
Upon testing positive for COVID-19, Tufts students assigned to isolate in the Homewood Suites receive an isolation housing assignment email that differs from the standard one for students assigned to The Mods.
The new email tells students their Homewood Suites room assignment, how to catch the van shuttles departing hourly for the hotel and that they will be provided with two $25 UberEats vouchers per day. It also instructs students not to leave their bedroom without a mask and not to enter the hotel’s common spaces.
Naomi Meininger, a student who was sent to Homewood Suites after testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, described the layout of her room, which she shares with a roommate.
“On one side, there's one normal bed and the other one's like a cot that they pulled out of the couch,” Meininger, a sophomore, said. “It’s two separate rooms, but there's no door to separate them essentially. But there's a table in one room and a kitchen, and the mattress is in there with a TV. … It's kind of a big suite.”
Meininger shared her favorable impression of the hotel facilities but expressed frustration about being far from campus.
“I think the hotel in terms of amenities is a lot nicer [than The Mods], but I do feel like, even though obviously I wouldn't go hang out in people’s rooms in The Mods, some of my friends are there, so that's a little hard,” she said.
Although the isolation housing assignment email details a no-guest policy, Aliénor Rice, another student sent to the Homewood Suites to isolate, explained that the policy isn’t strictly enforced.
“They're not actively checking [whether students are visiting each other] as far as I know,” Rice, a sophomore, said. “What they told us is we’re not allowed to leave our floor. So you have to wear your mask if you’re out in the hallway, obviously. But I know some people who have been going to each other's rooms just because we're all positive."
For Rice, the hotel isolation experience is enhanced by the UberEats dining options, which she prefers over the Tufts Dining meals offered to residents of The Mods.
“I think the hotel is better because we get UberEats so we can choose exactly what food we want instead of Tufts Dining,” she said. “I've only been here for less than 48 hours, but it feels like … a nicer setup than The Mods.”
University Infection Control Health Director Dr. Michael Jordan attributed the recent rise in COVID-19 cases to noncompliance with the university’s masking guidelines.
“More recently, we notified the student community of a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases,” Jordan wrote in an email to the Daily. “This coincides with reports of students increasingly choosing not to wear masks indoors, contrary to our protocols.”
According to Jordan, the university will continue to monitor trends and adjust policies in response to changing COVID-19 case counts.
“We are hopeful that the surge we are currently experiencing will abate soon and that in due course we will be able to relax our policies further in the near term,” he wrote.