CORONAVIRUS

Clock starts for University of Iowa students to leave dorms

'It was definitely get in and get out,' freshman says

Sierra Cochran (from left), Phil Cochran and Hannah Cochran, 16, of Marion, on Thursday move Sierra out of Burge Residen
Sierra Cochran (from left), Phil Cochran and Hannah Cochran, 16, of Marion, on Thursday move Sierra out of Burge Residence Hall during a scheduled move-out from the University of Iowa. Students have been told to vacate their dorms and are required to sign up for two-hour time slots to remove their belongings. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Having just wrapped her four-hour shift in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics emergency room, Autumn Gable got the news Wednesday afternoon she had to leave her home in Burge Residence Hall.

Since she had no other local housing option, the residence hall closure means the 19-year-old UI freshman has to leave town and with it her two jobs — her primary sources of income.

“We were told that we had to move all of our stuff out and completely leave the dorm, and so that was kind of a shock,” Gable told The Gazette on Thursday, explaining she hasn’t lived with her parents in New Hampton since age 17.

“Iowa City and living in the dorms was technically my home and my house,” she said, making the university’s announcement Wednesday that it will start closing residence halls due to the novel coronavirus especially challenging.

“I can’t take it back to a permanent residence and just leave it there,” Gable said of her belongings. “Everything that I own is with me at college, so it was kind of hard to process that — having to figure out a place to keep it all.”

Gable reached an aunt and uncle in Des Moines, who drove over to move her out and take her to their home for now.

She wasn’t the only student across Iowa’s three public universities Thursday piecing together backup plans and coming to terms with the news the campuses are moving in-person classes online for the rest of the semester; closing most dorms; and canceling commencement events in response to COVID-19.

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“I’m really sad about it,” UI freshman Jake Snedic, 19, said from his home in Naperville, Ill., noting his disappointment extends beyond the residence halls.

“I’m really sad about not being able to go back,” he said. “I didn’t know how much I would miss going to class until they called it off. I kind of took that for granted.”

After the initial announcement of the residence halls closure, UI officials sent out more specifics — giving students a 10-day window, until March 29 to sign up for a two-hour time slot to move out.

“Any guests coming to help you move out of your room must be symptom free,” according to the UI update.

That mandate gave Snedic pause about signing up for a move-out time right away — as he had a fever Wednesday, along with a sore throat. But they’ve since gone away and his doctor said his symptoms likely are unrelated to COVID-19.

“I’m all good now,” he said. “We just have to decide when the best time for me to go in is — I want my parents to come in and out with me.”

The University of Northern Iowa, similar to its sister campuses, is reducing the number of students in residence halls to only those with no other housing options.

Iowa State University will begin Sunday restricting students’ ability to live in the halls — allowing students to stay only under certain guidelines, such as they are from another country and can’t return home.

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The UI also is allowing for exceptions. And the campuses have said information is forthcoming about refunds on housing and dining contracts.

Gable, the UI freshman, said she could have applied to stay in the halls under extenuating circumstances — although she’s not sure her situation would have qualified. Plus, she decided, she didn’t want to stay in town alone and without a car.

“I couldn’t get to a grocery store,” she said. “And all the restaurants are shut down. So that would be hard.”

Although she understands the need for social distancing and preventing COVID-19’s spread in the dorms, Gable said she wishes the university would have given students more of a heads up so they could have started looking for other housing or making preparations to leave.

“When we first shut down, they weren’t saying to students, ‘Hey, start packing your stuff. Get rid of what you don’t need. Look for an apartment, or contact your family about what there is to do in the future if you’re living in the residence halls because it could get this far,” she said. “There was none of that … We thought we were starting back.”

UI freshman Sierra Cochran, 19, of Marion, took advantage of living locally and Thursday moved out of Burge. She and her friends feel the sooner they move the better — and safer.

“Because if you have the ninth or tenth day, how many thousands of kids have gone through there and how much more likely are you to get sick?” she said.

Even on day one, Cochran said, she and her family members were careful as they towed away loads of clothes, books and her futon.

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“My mom, before we got in, was like, ‘You’re not allowed to touch handrails. You’re not allowed to go into the elevator. If someone’s in the elevator, don’t use the elevator,’” she said. “I probably had to wash my hands 10 times … It was definitely get in and get out.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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