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Miami plans to quarantine sick students through Thanksgiving

In a university-wide email on Oct. 28, Miami University’s Division of Student Life warned students to use caution in how they approach Halloween festivities. The email to the Miami community read that “a legally-mandated 14-day quarantine could mean spending the Thanksgiving holiday in quarantine on campus.”

For students looking forward to this year’s extended break, testing positive for COVID-19 might make it impossible to travel home before their quarantine period ends. It might be tempting to ignore guidance from the university, but Jayne Brownell, Miami’s vice president for student life, said quarantine and isolation are legally binding state orders.

“It’s a Department of Health order through the state of Ohio,” Brownell said. “So it is not a Miami quarantine or isolation order … Since our residence halls wouldn’t meet the standards for students to be able to quarantine or isolate, we provide the facilities to support that order.”

Brownell said the Butler County prosecutor wrote in an August email that he would press charges against students who failed to follow quarantine orders.

Not every student who isolates has to stay at Miami, though. The Butler County Health District has allowed students within four hours of campus to quarantine at home.  Students who live farther away are more likely to stop on the way home for food, gas or restroom breaks, so they will not be allowed to leave.

For Grace Connors, a sophomore public health major who lives five hours away from campus, this rule makes November an especially stressful month.

“Halloween was last week, so you know cases are going to start going up in the next week,” Connors said. “I’ll be very upset if [someone who] went out and partied somehow gives it to me, and I have to stay here for Thanksgiving. I’m still a little shocked that they can make you stay.”

Connors said she watched an informational video from the university over the summer that said students will have the option to go home to quarantine. Her parents planned on picking her up if she tested positive for COVID-19, but under current guidance, they would no longer be allowed to.

Vicka Bell-Robinson, director of residence life at Miami, said her team will work to provide the same level of comfort to students in quarantine through Thanksgiving break.

“The students [in quarantine or isolation] get assigned a residence life person,” Bell-Robinson said. “That person is supposed to call and check in with the student fairly regularly. Not every student is necessarily getting a call every day because that might not be what they want, but we want to make sure that they just have a contact for if they have questions. We don’t want people to feel like they’re super isolated.”

Residence halls close to students who didn’t request to stay through break on Nov. 25, but Bell-Robinson said isolated students will get temporary access to retrieve their things before leaving campus. However, students are not permitted to leave and come back over break.

For Connors, one of her biggest concerns is that a reduced holiday staff might mess up the meal process for students in quarantine.

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“The only thing I expect them to do for me is give me food,” Connors said. “I do believe they’re doing everything they can. But I feel like if it’s Thanksgiving time and people aren’t supposed to be here, they’ll be lower staffed. Are we going to get all the food? I don’t know.”

Bell-Robinson said that while the staff will be reduced over the holidays, students in quarantine won’t have to worry about missing meals, as her team is committed to helping students.

Brownell said the dining staff at Miami is already planning for students who are isolated during the holidays, especially those who will miss their Thanksgiving meals with family.

“We’ll continue to support [isolated students], to call and check on them each day while they’re there, make sure they have their meals,” Brownell said. “We are looking at how to provide at least a special Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving day for those students who celebrate it. We [will] continue to support students during that week as we have been all semester.”