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Students describe their impressions of the housing intended for those who tested positive

(Somerville Wire) – They sit on the tennis courts of Tufts University, trailer-like structures that house students afflicted with the COVID-19 virus. These are the school’s modular units—known as “the Mods”—and they offer temporary housing for people who may need to isolate or quarantine, because of the pandemic. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Tufts had four modular units for students to live in, instead of the regular dormitories they would normally inhabit. After the school year, because COVID conditions were getting better, two units were removed. With Tufts having opened for in-person learning this fall, the administration has added an extra unit.

“After the school year, given the improving COVID outlook at the time, two of the units were removed,” wrote Tufts’ Assistant Director of Media Relations Robin Smyton. “However, connections for utilities were maintained on the site to allow the university to set up new modular units if and when health conditions warranted their addition. During an increase in positive cases among our student population a few weeks ago, we decided as a precautionary measure to add a third unit. This will bring the total number of available beds in the Mods to 132. Fortunately, we have seen the number of positive cases among our community decline recently. We hope this trend continues, and we won’t need to use the additional Mod.”

Bo Johnson is a junior in Tufts’ undergraduate program, studying international relations. While he only had a runny nose as a symptom, he tested positive for the coronavirus and went to live in the Mods on Sept. 30. He stayed there for only a week, because Tufts has a policy that if there is a place, like the home of a family member, a student can go to that is within driving distance, one may quarantine there instead. Describing his experience in the Mods, Johnson said it was “not the nicest,” being isolated in a room and rarely interacting with other students living in the space. There was no common area, and Johnson said that he ordered food from Tufts using an app. The experience of taking classes varied, with some being compatible with Zoom and others not. Johnson was in contact with his professors, who would send him the lecture slides, so that he would not fall behind.

“It was not great. You could hear everybody else walking by on campus, having a normal life [and stuff like that],” said Johnson. “People could come see you from a distance. But it wasn’t my favorite time, to be honest. I, fortunately, was not very sick, so I didn’t have to worry about that that much. But it was pretty isolating.” He added, “You could go around the specific area directly around the Mod, and my friends would come visit me, but [they would be] ten feet away, in that space.”

According to Smyton, students, faculty, and staff are required to be vaccinated, and students are currently being tested twice weekly. The most recent data from Tufts’ COVID-19 Dashboard indicates that there have been 33 positive tests, with .17% of tests being positive. Tufts uses a pooled testing model designed by Tufts University President Anthony Monaco. 10 swabs are packaged and tested together in one “pool.” If one swab has been found to be positive, every member of the pool is tested again and analyzed individually. The university emphasized that students, faculty, and staff with underlying conditions will be tested at the same frequency as others in their category.

“Increased frequency of testing of individuals with underlying conditions does not provide increased protection to these individuals,” reads the Tufts website. “The most important measures to mitigate risk include hand hygiene, use of masks, and physical distancing.”

Mason Goldberg, a junior at Tufts studying cognitive and brain science, tested positive for the coronavirus and began quarantining on Oct. 1. He lives in a house off campus and therefore did not have to stay in the Mods. Although he was isolated and had minimal interaction with his housemates, he explained that he believes it is more comfortable for students to remain in their own home, or in the house of a friend or family member, than to stay in the Mods. But the benefits really are conditional on a person’s individual circumstances.

“Obviously, it depends on the situation,” said Goldberg. “For people who live on campus and have a roommate, the Mods are really good, to prevent the roommate from getting COVID … you have meals delivered to you, and people do your laundry. That’s nice, for some people. For me, I didn’t get that sick. I enjoyed being in my own space and having everything that I normally have in my room, not having to pack my bag and go to the Mods. … It was better than being stuck in the Mods. I think the Mods are good for people who live on campus.” Regarding the effectiveness of the Mods, he added, “I don’t really know what a better alternative would be. Of course, you need some kind of isolation housing. I think the Mods do what they’re intended to do.”

This article is syndicated by the Somerville Wire municipal news service of the Somerville News Garden project of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.

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