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NYU Preparing for Possible Use of Dorms as Field Hospitals

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NYU Preparing for Possible Use of Dorms as Field Hospitals


A few days ago, we linked to a story on how New York City was considering using hotels for non-critical, non-COVID-19 related care. Twitter shows another example of how hospitals are preparing for the expected deluge of coronavirus cases.

A reader forwarded an unusually direct and detailed e-mail from Marc Wais, NYU’s Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, which was sent March 17 just after noon. The university had told students the day before that they needed to leave the dorms and remove their possessions from their rooms by the end of the week or have them locked inside. This e-mail clarified the basis for this move (emphasis original):

I’d like to share with you the thinking behind our decision-making, and provide some clarification based on feedback we have gotten as well as new developments, namely 1) that we are now offering a choice between having your possessions shipped or left locked in your room and 2) that we only want students who are in day-trip range to return to campus to pack up their possessions. Those who are further away or who have medical concerns should consider staying away and following the instructions below concerning their effects…

The short version is: for reasons of your safety and health, and the need to restrict the spread of the virus, we needed as many of our students as possible to leave the city. There is a growing health issue in New York, and the possibility of travel restrictions looms.

So, why ask you to empty your rooms? Why raise the possibility of your returning to New York for that purpose? And why not just have you leave your possessions in your room?

Let me break that down for you.

First, a lot of students—more than is customary—remained in the residence halls during spring break. We had counted on students departing as usual. In addition, we had indications that many students planned to return to campus following spring break, notwithstanding the fact that we anticipated—and wanted—students to carry on their coursework from home. Altogether, this was the opposite of what we were needed.

We want students to go home and stay at home for their own safety and the safety of others. And for those who are here and those who are nearby, spring break week seems like a better, less disruptive time to pack up and head home than a week when classes are being held. And there is a reason for asking students to do it quickly, too (within 48 hours, if possible): in the near future, things are going to get worse rather than better as time goes on….

The reasons we want the rooms clear are based on both short-term and long-term rationales.

First, in the short term, we believe students should return home. We believe that in most cases this course of action is safer for you.

Second, there are significant indications that the State, as part of its contingency planning, is looking at university dormitories as settings for overflow beds from hospitals grappling with a potentially overwhelming numbers of sick patients, and there are other medically-related contingencies for which they are also being eyed.

NYU has an institutional responsibility to help if things come to that here in the city. It will go a lot less well if student possessions remain in the rooms. Let me put it this way: for those of you still here (or within a day-trip) and in a position to pack up your room, your willingness to do so is potentially an important contribution to health measures that may come later. And however distasteful, imperfect, and complicated it may seem to have the University arrange to have your belongings packed up and shipped to you, I can assure you that it will go a lot better now than if we have to respond hastily to an emergency situation.

The e-mail later warns about leaving personal property in the dorm rooms:

To leave your possessions locked in your room and retrieve them at some later appropriate date: We understand the appeal of this option. And there is no certainty that your room will have to be used for another purpose. However, we want you to understand the downside: if you choose this option, you must be prepared that, in the event of a State-mandated or other emergency condition that requires your room to be made available as part of a health response, your possessions will be swept up with everyone else’s in the room. If it is at all possible at that time to arrange for storage, NYU will strive to do so. Students who wish to avail themselves of the option to have their belongings locked in their room to retrieve at a later date will be asked to sign a waiver; those not signing the waiver will have their possessions packed up and shipped to them, as proposed.

The fact that NYU is prepared to pack and ship a lot of goods is another reminder of how badly overloaded hospitals are expected to become, and in a matter of weeks on current trajectories, and sooner in NYC.

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