COVID-19: Viento Resident Alleges University Housed COVID-19 Patients Alongside Residents Weeks Without Prior Notice to Residents

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Sam Mitchell, a UC San Diego Ph.D. candidate and former resident of the Nuevo West Viento building, alleged that his building was being used as isolation housing for students returning from study abroad and those who may have come into contact with the virus as early as March 13. A general notice for the university’s intention to utilize on campus housing for student isolation was made in March, and is separate from the university’s announcement of its intention to lease a separate Nuevo East building to the county for potential patient isolation.

An anonymous student confirmed with the UCSD Guardian at 1:20 p.m. on April 6 that they were housed in the Viento building from March 13 through the 17 while they awaited the results of their COVID-19 test from Student Health Services.

Mitchell, who had moved into the building on March 1 to live with his partner and 11-year-old son, moved out of the Viento building on March 15. He claims that the university had begun to use the building for patient isolation without consulting current residents.

“My child was in there,” Mitchell said in an interview with the Guardian. “We had bought a bunch of groceries and planned on doing the whole isolation thing … but my parental instincts said that he couldn’t stay there anymore.”

According to Mitchell, the university worked with Housing Dining Hospitality and the San Diego Police Department to move students into vacant apartments in the Viento building alongside current residents as early as March 13.

Mitchell made numerous attempts to reach out to both HDH, Student Health Services, and university officials for concrete answers as to what was going on and what would be done to protect current student residents in the building. 

He claimed that those he were able to get in contact with told him that the decision to house patients alongside residents would not put anyone’s health at risk and that he had nothing to worry about. One dean reportedly told him that the university’s priority was to protect the privacy of the patients, but gave no help in regards to current residents’ health.

“They were caught up in a lie already,” Mitchell said. “It seemed like they had planned this all along.”

As a result of the decision to use the building for patient isolation, Mitchell had no permanent place to live in San Diego, so he packed up his belongings with his partner and son and made the approximately 2,000-mile drive to his former home in Minneapolis while school was still in session. Mitchell said he even had to teach sections while driving through Arizona and Kansas.

Mitchell said that he has filed a grievance with the United Auto Workers union in regards to the situation, and will file a class-action lawsuit against the university if enough Viento residents agree to do so as well. Otherwise, Mitchell will try to reach a settlement with the university for damages on his own.

Mitchell stated that the university has yet to offer him and his family any compensation or apology for the incident.

Graduate Student Association President Rachel Flanagan spoke to the Guardian about how the organization has been working to address the allegations.

“The GSA received multiple reports from students concerned about HDH utilizing on-campus Graduate and Family Housing units for quarantining possible COVID-19 patients,” Flanagan said. “We know that a small number of units in the new development of Nuevo West were marked for the use by and in partnership with UC San Diego Health; no one anticipated their first use would be for quarantining students. The GSA continues to pressure HDH and senior campus leadership to better communicate with students, especially on issues that directly impact their lives.”

The university responded to the Guardian to address that the reason the initial announcement of on campus student isolation housing did not include the intended location was due to student privacy concerns.

“To maintain confidentiality, and to be compliant with federal law (see Notice of Privacy Practices at https://wellness.ucsd.edu/studenthealth/about/HIPAA/Pages/default.aspx), we are not identifying isolated students nor their locations,” the April 1 announcement read.

Housing Dining Hospitality had offered graduate housing residents the ability to cancel their rental agreements without penalty and a prorated reimbursement if they did so by March 29, 2020. However, the decision to use a Nuevo East building, which is composed entirely of graduate student and family housing, was announced three days after the no penalty cancellation date. The Nuevo East building will not house any student residents.

This article was updated to clarify the difference between Nuevo West and Nuevo East at 1pm.

This article was updated at 1:20pm to include that a student has reached out to the Guardian to confirm that they were housed in the Viento building while awaiting COVID-19 test results from March 13-17.

This article was updated at 2pm to address that the university did in fact make a general announcement about its intention to house students in isolation for COVID-19 in March, although the location was not given due to privacy concerns.

This article was updated at 2:40pm to clarify that the Nuevo East building leased by the County will not house student residents.

This article was updated at 9pm to include a statement from Graduate Student President Rachel Flanagan.

Photo courtesy of UC San Diego.

7 thoughts on “COVID-19: Viento Resident Alleges University Housed COVID-19 Patients Alongside Residents Weeks Without Prior Notice to Residents

  1. Yes, move to another apartment complex. Residents there will have it as well. This is more widespread than you all seem to think.

    Quarantine yourself entirely (with the exception of your biweekly grocery run). Don’t order things online; you don’t need to be in the mailroom often. Protect yourself when you step out, spray lysol if you have it, wash your hands and sanitize often.

    Lawsuit? Ha…

  2. I’m also a current resident. I think you can do some low-level detective work on your own, because well, at least for me, I would trust my own eyes more than what someone else claims. It’s like playing “I Spy”, where the objects you’re looking for include staff with PPE (i.e., N95 masks, gloves) who are delivering or taking away something on a cart, identical bags left outside various units, or maybe a bio-hazard truck parked outside the building. Although I’m slightly worried about the integrity of the building design and plumbing system (thinking of the Amoy Gardens 2003 SARS incident), I’m also going to try to calm us all down by saying that we don’t know if any of these isolated students actually tested positive for COVID-19. Don’t get me wrong, the handling of the situation (i.e., housing suspected COVID-19 patients alongside student residents) is borderline unethical in my opinion. Whether we agree if SARS-CoV-2 is airborne or not*, student residents could become vectors of transmission – spreading the virus when lining up for packages at the mailroom, or when grocery shopping – having no idea that they were exposed. Deciding to lease Nuevo East to county COVID19 patients is yet another misstep by the university. After all, the machine still needs cheap labor to function and bring money in. Let me help you connect the dots. Your entire on-campus-housed graduate student population is in this area. 😉

    *https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/you-may-be-able-spread-coronavirus-just-breathing-new-report-finds#

  3. Which floors were there isolated individuals? Do you know how long they stayed here? I am a current resident at West. This makes me very uncomfortable.

    Thanks!

  4. Thanks for running this story! I just vacated the building as well. Another lie: they said there would be no isolated individuals on floors where residents lived. There were 3 isolated individuals on my floor while I was still paying to live as a resident (week of March 18 on).

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