Jaspers Quarantined in Westchester Hotel as Horan Suites Reach Maximum Occupancy

by, Caroline McCarthy, Asst. Features Editor

Maximum occupancy in designated quarantine suites has resulted in contact-traced and COVID-19 positive residents being sent to Springhill Suites in Westchester County. The process of notifying, housing, and transporting quarantine residents are creating what students call “unnecessary stress” for affected individuals.

In an email addressed to the Manhattan College Community, the Steering Committee co-chairs Steven Schreiner, Richard Satterlee, and Tamara Britt request the college take a “Deep Breath Moment” as an influx of positive cases causes an increasing number of students to quarantine.

“We need to address this increase now, before it becomes a major impediment to our ability to complete Spring semester without a pause,” the email stated.

Threats of regressing to completely remote instruction, as the college implemented at the beginning of the virus last March, led administrators to “de-densify” Jasper Hall, where the majority of cases reside, due to communal bathrooms defining entire floors as “family units.”

Jasper Hall residents, who typically reside with one other roommate and share a bathroom with 40+ students on the floor, received an email from Residence Life regarding an “urgent opportunity” to move into suites in Horan Hall.

“In an effort to make living through the COVID era more manageable, comfortable, and safe, Residence Life is offering and strongly recommending you and your roommate a space in Horan Hall,” read the email sent by Micah Thomas, Area Coordinator for Residence Life.

This offer was announced after numerous floors in Jasper Hall faced full-quarantine, some floors undergoing the process more than once. The use of communal bathrooms and showers orchestrate the need for all members of a floor to be contact-traced even if only one positive case is found.

Students who are contact-traced and forced into quarantine typically reside in Horan Hall on designated quarantine floors. According to Residence Life Director Charles Clency, the college has designated 60 spaces in Horan Hall for quarantined and isolated students on campus.

Since this number has been exceeded, students are now being transported via bus to the Springhill Suite in Westchester county, which Manhattan College has a contract with for the 2021 spring semester.

“We have [Springhills Suites] on standby,” said Clency. “We have an open-ended contract to utilize them. We have an overflow.”

Students shared concerns with the transportation system, sharing that residents being moved are not screened for COVID prior to entering the crowded bus. One student, freshman Emilia O’Neill, estimates the bus to have 20 seats, with 10 being occupied by residents.

“They just grouped us onto this bus so it was just like a COVID bomb,” said O’Neill. “After we got to the hotel, several people on that bus tested positive.”

O’Neill encourages Manhattan College faculty to administer COVID tests prior to transporting students, and transport positive cases separately from negative testing students.

Springhill Suites is set to hold an additional 140 students in quarantine or isolation if and when Horan becomes over-occupied. These floors do not hold any additional security, such as resident assistants due to budget cuts, practicality and the pressing health risk.

“Those floors are not designated as residentially occupied spaces,” Clency said. “The second thing is, we’re not trying to put any of our RAs, students, or staff in any kind of harm’s way. We can’t consciously place students there who are students first, although they work for the college and work for the Department.”

Clency suggests Manhattan College faculty have stepped up in taking on the RA’s role in a virtual manner. Different departments, such as Health Services and other COVID departments aid student’s psychological and physical concerns.

However, some students in these quarantined hotels claim it is “impossible” to get in contact with these resources.

Alexandra Petrescu, a freshman currently quarantined in Springhill Suites, claims she attempted to contact numerous departments during her time in quarantine and received no response.

“It’s impossible to contact them at all for anything. It’s really hard [to get a response]. I emailed them. I don’t know, I think they could be more, like, mindful, because we’re going through quarantine,” Petrescu said.

O’Neill echoed Petrescu’s concern, claiming the disorganization of the quarantine process added unnecessary stress to all those involved. She believes that the lack of communication between departments causes information to be repeated, disproven and contradicted through the multiple emails sent to quarantined residents each day.

“I would say the organization of the whole process was less than desirable. It was, it was a mess. It was very chaotic,” O’Neill said.

She continued. “So Health Services is emailing you at one point and then Residence Life and then the Counseling Center like everybody’s doing their own things so they’re kind of overlapping each other.”

All interviewees agreed that the Counseling Center has made a strong attempt to reach out to quarantined students, prioritizing mental health during their stay.

“In terms of, like, mental health I feel like they’ve been reaching out,” O’Neill said. “The Counseling Center reached out to us on the first day.”

Petrescu has even shown gratitude for her quarantine, finding it as an escape from the stress on campus due to COVID-19.

“I really needed some time for myself and away from the chaos on campus,” said Petrescu.

“We have people in counseling services that that’s readily available at their discretion,” said Clency. “We encourage them to reach out to those kinds of service resources and utilize it to the best of their ability.”

Students have also reported miscommunication and lack of communication between Health Services and potentially exposed individuals, claiming green passes were turned to red without any warning or explanation.

Sophomore Isabelle Gutierrez stated when her floor of Jasper Hall was put into quarantine, the residents were given no notification of why their passes turned to red.

“We [her roommates] all just individually got red passes, we didn’t know why,” said Gutierrez.

Guitierrez, along with her 3 roommates Simona Graceffo, Ashley Danz and Grace Geckler challenged their quarantine mandate on account of living in a suite in Jasper, which has its own bathroom.

Their appeal consisted of an email sent by Geckler to Contact Tracing, Residence Life and Health Services. The email outlined the nature of their suite, use of an individual bathroom and the rules for Horan and Lee Halls where if a positive case is found, only that suite is required to quarantine.

“Our dorm is right next to the exit stairs,” said Guitierrez. “We don’t really have to see that many people [on our floor].”

The girls were racing against the clock trying to maintain their stay in Jasper Hall. The email received gave the girls three hours to pack before being transported to their quarantine facility. The girls credit Rose Gray, a Manhattan College library assistant currently making phone calls to each individual student placed in quarantine, for aiding them in their dispute.

Despite not thinking their quarantine was necessary, the suite claimed their major reason for challenging the quarantine was Geckler’s recent stay in isolation and her desire to not have to go through that experience again.

“I had literally just gotten out,” said Geckler. “The likelihood that I even talked to [the positive student] was very low so I really was like I can’t do this again.”

Guitierrez, Graceffo, Danz and Geckler’s appeal was granted and the four were able to remain in their suite while the rest of the floor was quarantined in a hotel. Health services changed their red passes back to green after the case was rectified.

Clency stated current quarantine operations will likely continue in the 2021 fall semester.

“The reality is, although the vaccine is out there, we just don’t know who or when all of our students and employees and staff will actually have access to get it,” said Clency. “I don’t think we’re going to get out of wearing masks, I think masks, at the very least will still be around in the fall.”