Students quarantined at Mt. Hope

Normally a setting for swanky alumni functions and academic conferences, Mount Hope Farm has since last week been serving as an isolation center for students suspected of having contracted the H1N1 virus. The members of the Pandemic Planning Committee decided to activate the facility at a meeting on Wednesday afternoon, and the first group of students entered Mount Hope a few hours later. According to Director of Facilities Services Bea Miles, about 45 students have gone through the facility since then, with its occupancy peaking at 22 students last Thursday.

Before Mount Hope opened on Wednesday, students suspected of contracting H1N1 were quarantined in their rooms. If students resided in doubles, their roommates were sent to live in spare rooms around campus. According to Dean Merrill, the decision to open the new isolation facility came partly due to a growing lack of available spaces on campus as well as worries that without a centralized location the College would have difficulty monitoring and caring for a growing number of ill students.

“At our Wednesday meeting last week we were edging towards a situation where we were running out of rooms for separating people in doubles,” Merrill said. “We drew a line at 3:00 p.m. that any student who gets swine flu is going to Mount Hope.” According to Merrill about seven students entered the facility by Wednesday night; since then roughly 20 students have been quarantined there at any given time.

While the opening of Mount Hope indicates a significant change in the College’s approach to dealing with H1N1, Merrill emphasized that it is not cause for students to become alarmed. “The numbers are significant because they are higher than we’ve seen and required a shift in operation, but if you look at it in terms of the percentage of the student body we’re still in pretty good shape. If our numbers were to jump considerably from where they are now, we’d obviously be concerned,” she said.
The Committee is not currently concerned that the College will have to enact strict on-campus precautions such as those seen last spring, when dining halls discontinued buffet-style food service. “We have a plan that we could engage if the outbreak got serious enough that would limit the contact students had with food, but we’re not there yet,” said Bob Volpi, committee member and director of Dining Services.

Ruth Harrison, director of Health Services, has been making at least two visits to the facility each day to check on infected students. According to Miles, Harrison keeps records of students’ symptoms and is “the person giving the most care right now,” since the Health Center’s other nurses are busy treating and diagnosing students on campus. Besides Harrison, other personnel visiting the facility include Dining Services staff, who deliver three meals each day from Mission Park dining hall, and custodial staff. Miles and her husband live next door to Mount Hope, and when no one is at the facility between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. both are available to students who require assistance. “We both walk through and the students have my number and can call anytime,” Miles said. “If they needed something they have walked over and knocked on my door.”

The College is currently in the process of hiring a temporary attendant to cover the facility continuously during the day, partly to take pressure off of Facilities staff members who have been cleaning, making beds and transporting students to and from Mount Hope. “They have really stepped up to the plate, and it’s really above and beyond their regular duties – they have been willing to expose themselves to illness to help out,” Miles said.

Though the flu itself seems to last about five to seven days, most students quarantined at Mount Hope stay for far less time. Miles said that the longest stay had been three days, attributing the small amount in isolation to students waiting until they already have symptoms to visit the Health Center. Students are permitted to return to campus once their fever subsides for 24 hours without medication.

According to students who have returned from Mount Hope, the College did all that it could to make their stay in quarantine as comfortable as possible. “I for one was treated exceptionally well,” said Erik Levinsohn ’12. “At some point someone asked for board games, and they brought us up about 20.”

“Williams did an amazing job of being hospitable and making the process as easy as it could for someone who is weak and sick,” said Adrian Rodrigues ’10. “The Dean’s Office sends e-mails to all of your professors telling them that you’re at Mount Hope and provides you with all of your bedding and other necessities.”

Merrill, who herself was infected with H1N1 last month, advised students who feel ill to take the disease seriously and those who leave isolation to take their time in resuming normal activities. “Professors are very aware that as we get close to the end of the semester students who get it face challenges in doing their work, and the Dean’s Office is here to help with that,” she said, referring to last Wednesday’s faculty meeting, where she encouraged professors to be patient with ill students.

A mansion that used to be owned by the Rockefeller family, Mount Hope contains 72 rooms, 17 of which are bedrooms. Miles said that many of the rooms can accommodate multiple students and that there is currently space for up to 34 students at the facility. By adding more beds and converting spaces to bedrooms, however, the facility could potentially accommodate between 45 and 48 students. Mount Hope contains only three single rooms, which according to Miles are being reserved for students who exhibit serious health issues in addition to the flu.

“You’ve got to say there aren’t many with a Rockefeller mansion for flu isolation,” Merrill said.

Harrison did not return repeated calls requesting comment.

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