How higher ed is preparing dorms for nurses and patients during COVID-19

Three colleges and universities are supporting local hospitals and medical centers by providing vacant residence halls during the coronavirus pandemic

More than two weeks ago, Tufts University began preparing vacant dormitory rooms for medical personnel and patients to help relieve stress on the healthcare system as it battles the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. One area of the Massachusetts campus will use university dorms to shelter healthy first responders and medical personnel, infected patients who have stopped shedding the virus but still need to be isolated and other patients who do not have COVID-19 but require ambulatory care. Meanwhile, a separate part of campus will offer available university housing for healthy students who are unable to return home due to travel restrictions and other complications.

“When I heard about the COVID-19 outbreak, I immediately placed calls to local health authorities and then to retired admiral James G. Stavridis for military logistics advice,” says President Anthony Monaco.

Admiral Stavridis redirected Monaco to military officials visiting the Fletcher School at Tufts for support. These visiting fellows soon formed a task force with Tufts faculty who have backgrounds in humanitarian assistance. “The command center they created has been invaluable with providing logistical advice on how to set up communications and to support our medical centers,” says Monaco.

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He adds, “Unlike some cities, many college campuses are familiar with managing surging traffic and having these types of conversations with the community, which is why this model is scalable.”

Helping beyond university housing

Tufts’ research enterprise is providing personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and shields to Tufts Medical Center, a hospital affiliated with Tufts University School of Medicine. Additionally, the university veterinary school recently donated ventilators originally used for animals for use on human patients. “It’s important for colleges to listen to their local hospitals and understand what their needs are,” says Monaco.

Tufts is also planning on creating drive-through test sites and to repurpose available spaces into daycares for the children of medical workers.

College housing initiatives in progress

Schools in nearby states are working with local hospitals to provide shelter for their medical personnel during the pandemic. In Vermont, Middlebury College recently began collaborating with the University of Vermont Health Network and the Porter Medical Center to provide temporary college housing for a small number of their employees, said President Laurie Patton in a recent email to the community.

In New York, state government officials alerted New York University and other higher ed institutions that they might need to use their university dorms to help alleviate their overburdened hospitals. “There have been no specific requests of NYU at this point,” says university Spokesman John Beckman. “But we want to be in a positon to help if needed, so as we direct our students to leave the residence halls and return home, it is one of the issues we have let them know about so that they understand the seriousness of the situation in New York City.”

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