For some members of the University of Georgia class of 2024, registering for on-campus housing presented a choice of choosing a dorm that offers social connection while maintaining social distance.
UGA has implemented various campus-wide measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but students report varying levels of policy enforcement within residence halls. Some residents questioned the value of these restrictions within a communal living space, considering the frequent off-campus activities of some of their fellow residents.
According to UGA’s University Housing, residents are not allowed to have guests in their dorms. These regulations have been enforced differently among the freshman dormitories. In the high rise dorms Brumby, Russell and Creswell Halls, students are required to show their UGA ID card upon entry. Additionally, stickers on the cards denote which dorm a resident lives in to prevent visitation between buildings.
However, in the Hill dormitories, such as Hill, Mell and Morris Halls, students from other dorms visit regularly with little to no regulation.
“Brumby is more strict about it. You have to show your ID, and people sneak people in through the back way,” said Jessica Keen, a freshman social work major living in Brumby Hall. “Whereas like in the low rises, if you want somebody to come in, you can kind of just walk through the entrance.”
Within the dorms, enforcement of the regulation barring visitors in students’ rooms is also highly variable. Allie Alterman, a freshman biology major living in Russell Hall, said her resident assistant wasn’t strict about having visitors, but she knew some RAs were.
The variation in execution of campus policies across residence halls highlights how the rules aimed at deterring behaviors that could increase COVID-19 transmission due to lack consistent enforcement.
Although violations of university guidelines are occurring, Jace Whitley, a freshman mechanical engineering and business administration major living in Mell Hall, doesn’t view them as major causes of coronavirus spread. Whitely believes the primary sources of the virus within the dorms are students who frequent downtown Athens or attend social gatherings that don’t adhere to public safety measures.
“In a bar like 1785 where it's [like] a crowded subway, essentially with body to body, I think that's probably a pretty high chance they're going to get something there,” Whitley said.
UGA Greek Life activities may have exposed sorority and fraternity members to the coronavirus before their time in student housing even began. Keen, a sorority member, said she was sent home the day she moved into her dorm after she was potentially exposed at rush.
Though UGA mandates the no-visitor policy, social distancing and face coverings in communal spaces, the administration cannot control the extracurricular and social activities of students off campus.
“It's not like they can restrict people from going downtown or anything, so I think it's [COVID-19 spread] just to be expected,” Alterman said.
Transitioning into the spring semester, the students who were previously infected with the coronavirus may be more lenient in their adherence to UGA COVID-19 guidelines because of a possible window of immunity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reinfection with COVID-19 appears to be uncommon until 90 days after the onset of symptoms.
For some, the COVID-19 restrictions in freshman housing has prevented the easy friendships and open-door policies expected of the early days of college. Students continue to seek activities both in and out of residence halls to form communities and tight-knit friendships.
“You can easily become friends and acquaintances with people, but making that close attachment and relationship — that's what people are really being deprived of,” Keen said.