Residents of the Eagle Heights apartment complex are expressing their grievances with the University of Wisconsin’s use of vacant apartments to house quarantine COVID-positive students.

A few weeks before the semester began, University Housing announced they were going to use vacant apartments in Eagle Heights to isolate COVID-19 positive students. As reported first by the Wisconsin State Journal, residents raised concerns about the lack of consultation and logistics of the plan in late August, but the university went ahead with the arrangement at the start of the academic year. 

“I know that people felt like they wanted to be consulted,” University Housing Director Jeff Novak said at a town hall held in August. “I’m sorry if you feel that way. We made the best decision for our complete resident population and students here at the University of Wisconsin.”

UW opens specialized support center for undocumented studentsA new “Center for DREAMers” aimed to support undocumented Wisconsinites and DACA recipients recently launched and is currently being housed Read…

Now about two months into the isolation plan, the Teaching Assistants’ Association for graduate employees in Madison took to Twitter on Oct. 18 to raise continuing concerns about the situation for students and families living in Eagle Heights. 

“Here’s why people are scared [of the plan]: Eagle Heights apartments are old, with some units adjacent to each other per floor,” the Teaching Assistants’ Association tweeted. “The units share ventilation to the extent that residents can smell their neighbors cooking, or see cigarette smoke from the vent in their windowless bathroom.”

In an email statement to The Badger Herald, UW Housing spokesperson Brendon Dybdahl said the plan was created in consultation with University Health Services and the UW-Madison Department of Environmental Health & Safety. He said being able to smell cooking from other apartments in the community does not equate to exposure to respiratory droplets.

Dybdahl said they chose Eagle Heights because all of the selected spaces have their own exterior entrances and do not share common areas with the community.

“Space on campus and in the Madison community is extremely limited this year, but we carefully explored all of our options, and we identified 30 vacant apartment units in Eagle Heights that we could reserve for this use as a safe, responsible plan,” Dybdahl said. Since they complex opened, the number of apartments set aside have been reduced to 20 due to low usage, he said.

Dean of Students hosts virtual town hall in response to increase in racist incidents on campusThe University of Wisconsin Dean of Students Office hosted a virtual town hall to address the university’s response to anti-Chinese Read…

Dybdahl said many students choose to self-isolate or go home when they test positive for COVID-19. Often times those who can’t afford to do so are out-of-state students or international students who do not have other places to go. The most people in isolation at Eagle Heights at any one time so far this fall semester has been 24 students, he said.

As a UW-owned property, it’s home to many international graduate students, as well as students with families juggling multiple responsibilities with limited resources, the Teaching Assistants’ Association said on Twitter.

Kerem Morgül is a PhD candidate in sociology and UW  lecturer who has lived in Eagle Heights for eight years. Morgül said residents have multiple concerns, including a lack of transparency and monitoring.

“There’s really no monitoring,” Morgül said. “One monitor works every day and checks students’ health status, but there’s been no monitoring to ensure students are following the public health guidelines.”

A security monitor was hired to be on duty nightly and oversee the university apartments, Novak said in the August town hall. Dybdahl said during the daytime, University Apartments staff are working on-site, watching for issues and addressing complaints. He said they have had no behavioral issues that would “put any Eagle Heights resident at risk.”

Morgül said UW stated in its initial email from August that food would be provided to positive students isolating in the complex and no-contact food delivery would be available. Presently, UW is only giving snacks to positive students for the first 12 hours of their isolation, Morgül said.

This makes students responsible for basic necessities that require them to either leave isolation to obtain food or have food delivered, which is a tall order considering the price of food delivery, Morgül said.

Dybdahl said Housing directs students to several food and grocery ordering services that provide contactless delivery and offers a $200 credit against their dining plan to offset some of the service costs.

Student Transportation Board to hold forum on proposed 80 changesThe Student Transportation Board and the University of Wisconsin Transportation Services began proposing changes to campus bus routes, including the Read…

In the August town hall meeting, UW officials addressed residents’ concerns regarding ventilation, stating UW’s Environmental Health and Safety division inspected Eagle Heights and found all ventilation goes directly outside, not into other units. But this is not the case, according to Morgül.

“No one actually inspected the units,” Morgül said. “They initially claimed medical professionals and environmental health and safety experts inspected the units and gave the green light for the operation. In the last town meeting on September 14, [residents] insisted they share with us the records from that inspection so that we could trust them … and they admitted no on site inspection was done, there is no report to share.”

Dybdahl said in an email statement the ventilation system was inspected at Eagle Heights by UW-Madison’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety before any isolation students were placed in the apartments. This assessment found that all ventilation goes directly outside and does not vent to other units, he said.

Morgül lives in the complex with his three-year-old son. Though COVID-19 poses less of a risk to children than it does adults, there’s still a risk to their health. This is especially true given that the age requirement for vaccination is 12 years old, he said.

Though Associate Director of Campus Health Collin Pitts and UHS Director of Operations Carol Griggs assured residents at the town hall meeting there was no risk posed by housing COVID-19 positive students in Eagle Heights, Mörgul said he worries that neither epidemiologists or experts weighed in.

“We, along with our campus health experts, have worked to educate our residents about why our plan is necessary and safe,” Dybdahl said. “This limited use of vacant Eagle Heights apartments for isolation poses no greater risk to residents than being out in the community, sending children to school or daycare, or living next door to any other residents who may or may not be ill.”

ASM supports resolution to create statewide student council, appoints new equity and inclusion chairThe Associated Students of Madison moved to support a proposed resolution to create a statewide Student Governance Council and appointed Read…

According to Morgül, Novak said there are people who want to rent Eagle Heights units, and if residents believe there is a risk, they should leave the complex as soon as possible so the units can be filled.

Dybdahl said the university has offered to let individuals transfer to another Eagle Heights apartment or cancel their lease without penalty, and “a handful of residents” have taken these offers.

The TAA tweet stated that Novak said, “If you believe the risk [of COVID-19 transmission] is there, then you should leave. We have people who would like to rent these units.”

“That made me really angry,” Morgül said. “Leaving is not that easy when you have a family, are working at the university and are finishing your postgraduate education … we cannot just pack and leave in the middle of the semester, that requires planning, time and resources.”

This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 21 to reflect statements from UW Housing provided by Brendon Dybdahl.