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Loyola Looks to Reduce COVID-19 Spread in Dorms with Mandated Testing, Guest Restrictions

Zack Miller | The PhoenixLoyola students who live on campus and test positive for COVID-19 may have to isolate in St. Louis Hall.

Loyola’s Department of Residence Life announced updated testing guidelines for students returning to on-campus housing and the university urged testing prior to arrival due to limited isolation capacity on campus in an email sent to Loyola’s on-campus residents Jan. 4.

At-home tests for COVID-19 will not be accepted for the negative test requirement to re-enter on-campus living. The department also announced a change to the campus-housing guest policy, which won’t allow for non-student guests for the first two weeks of the spring semester.

The email said students who test positive may be asked to leave campus due to limited isolation capacity. St. Louis Hall, the residence hall which has been set aside for students who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate, has a total capacity for 78 students to isolate according to Paris Smith, a Wellness Center COVID Care Coordinator who oversees the residence hall.

Director of Residence Life Deb Schmidt-Rogers explained any student who lives alone and has their own bathroom can isolate in place, though students who have a common bathroom will need to be relocated to St. Louis or leave campus if the dorm is filled.

“We’re hoping students will test really close to coming to campus and if they are positive stay home,” she said.

Schmidt-Rogers explained if 5% of Loyola residents were to test positive then isolation capacity would be exceeded.

Loyola’s test-positivity rate increased during the last month, The Phoenix reported. On Dec. 4 the rate reached 10.5%, the highest it has been since November 2020. This reflects the surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide over the past month brought on by the Omicron variant.

Chicago is averaging 4,793 daily cases, and the city’s test positivity rate is up to 19% as of Jan. 11, according to city data.

Schmidt-Rogers said students who live further away from Chicago will be prioritized when isolation space is provided. 

“We would not put out-of-state students on a plane positive because that would just be wrong,” she said. “But we have a number of students who live close enough that they could do their isolation at home which would free up additional space in St. Louis.”

She said at the end of the fall semester, while the university was experiencing an increase in positive cases, that the majority of students who tested positive chose to leave campus and isolate at home rather than enter isolation in St. Louis Hall.

The university’s decision to ban non-Loyola guests from entering residence halls is a reversal back to protocols from the beginning of the year. By November students were allowed to check-in outside guests, The Phoenix reported.

The change comes as a result of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, Schmidt-Rogers said. 

“We’ve gotten no push back about the guest policy yet,” Schmidt-Rogers said. “We are hoping that the change is just for two weeks, but we need to level-set campus before we introduce those from outside of campus.”

Loyola also announced at-home COVID tests will no longer fulfill the university’s re-entry testing requirement. The requirement, which was originally announced Dec. 17, asks that all students living in residence halls provide proof of a negative test result within 48 hours of returning to campus.

The email explained that at-home tests will no longer be accepted because they are not identifiable to any specific person. Negative PCR tests or rapid antigen tests will be accepted. 

There has been a shortage in available COVID-19 tests and testing appointments in the U.S. in recent weeks, the Associated Press reported. Loyola has announced it will be increasing the hours of on-campus testing sites when students return to campus for the spring semester.

Schmidt-Rogers said up to this point they have not received any communications with students expressing concerns with the testing requirement. 

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