The pitfall of having many flatmates

Quarantined again and again

If someone in your household has – possibly – contracted the coronavirus, you all have to quarantine yourselves for ten days. But when you share a house with a lot of other people, that can result in a kind of perpetual self-isolation.
By Alessandro Tessari and Sara Rommes

It’s an ordinary day in Huyze de Bolder. Students constantly walk in and out of the common room. They grab food, have a chat and laugh with each other, and leave again. It all seems normal. But if you look closer, you will notice a large poster on the door of the refrigerator, with the word ‘quarantelling’ (‘quarantine count’) written above it. Here, the students keep track of the number of times each housemate has had to go into quarantine. There are a lot of dashes behind every name.

‘At this point, quarantine hits us basically every weekend’, says econometrics student Danique (22). Huyze de Bolder has sixteen students and every single time someone has symptoms or has been in contact with a positive case, they all have to go into quarantine and wait for a test result. 

‘It’s difficult to strike the right balance when you live with sixteen students’, explains Bente (19), artificial intelligence student. ‘The rules regarding corona are constantly changing, and each time we have to adjust.’ 


To keep the disease out of the house as much as possible, the students have come up with their own restrictions. They’ve decided people who don’t live there can’t come into the house anymore; they’re only allowed in the garden. ‘We also expect you to be open and honest about how you’re feeling. Only then can we take appropriate measures together’, Danique says. ‘Basically, it all boils down to one idea: think about yourself and others. Be sensible. If we all do so, we can trust each other. That’s the key factor in keeping this up.’

At this point, quarantine hits us basically every weekend

In practice, however, it has turned out to be difficult. ‘Recently, we had a housemate who was ill, and he works in De Tapperij. At that point you think: shit’, says human movement science student Ilse (21). ‘I work in home care and am in contact with the elderly a lot. During those moments, you really become aware of the responsibility you have.’ 

Unfortunately, these types of inconvenient situations keep occurring. ‘We are not the average household the RIVM is talking about, so we sometimes just fall between the cracks’, Bente says. ‘I recently had to be physically present for an exam’, Danique says. ‘I explained that it’s quite possible I would be in quarantine, as I live with fifteen others. They told me just to take the resit. Things like that are really annoying.’ 

Not lonely

Despite all the inconveniences, Huyze de Bolder is confident that they can keep this up for a longer period of time. ‘We won’t get lonely any time soon. If you have the advantages of a large household, you also have to deal with the disadvantages’, says Danique.

It would be helpful if the GGD were able to do more testing. ‘Sometimes seven days pass from the moment you want to take a test and the result of the test. A whole week locked up with sixteen people, and this happening almost weekly, is just not doable’, Ilse says.

Do we count as a household together, or not?

Julie Jeuken (18) and Eva Idenburg (19), both students of liberal arts and sciences, live in Frsascati, a large international housing complex next to the train station. The building offers accommodation to a total of 210 first-year University College students. Each floor is divided into smaller units, where groups of students share the kitchen and the bathroom.

Julie and Eva share their unit with six other students and so far, they have been in quarantine once, awaiting a housemate’s test result. In their unit, they’ve set some rules. They cannot go to parties and are only allowed to meet up with close friends. Nevertheless, the large student complex sometimes feels like a ticking time bomb. ‘We live together in the same building, but we are separate households’, Eva explains. ‘Sometimes, that’s a grey area. We’re in the same corridor as the unit next to us. The only thing that separates us is a door, which we can open. Do we count as a household together, or not?’

Both students understand that living with this many people requires a sense of responsibility. ‘I’m not afraid to get corona myself, but I am sometimes scared to infect others’, Julie says. Yet, at the end of the day, they are happy to live with this many other people. ‘I know first-year students who are by themselves every day’, Eva says. ‘I would much rather have this.’

Yijae Chang-Chien (25), a master student of media innovation and creation, is one of the students facing the corona outbreak all by themselves. She lives in The Village at the Peizerweg, which hosts hundreds of students, but she hardly has any contact with the other residents. 

Entire floor

‘Over the course of two weeks, I received three emails about positive and potential cases in the building’, says Yijae. ‘Different floors had to quarantine in their entirety. There was even a positive case on mine.’ 

However, Yijae did not have to stay inside. ‘The Village communicated to us that the positive girl had been in isolation already for almost ten days, so the risk was minimal, and a floor quarantine wasn’t necessary.’ Nevertheless, the situation caused her quite some anxiety. During that period, she was visiting her brother in Denmark and she wasn’t sure if she had encountered the girl who tested positive in one of the shared spaces in the previous weeks. 

Going through quarantine at some point is almost inevitable

Yijae looks at her situation realistically. ‘Given the circumstances in which I live, going through quarantine at some point is almost inevitable.’ The Village is a complex of four buildings, each with three floors hosting eighteen residents each. Therefore, the possibilities to encounter corona cases or potential ones are substantial. ‘I have no control over it. Some of the people on my floor I have never seen or met, and there isn’t much communication.’ The girl who tested positive, she doesn’t know either : ‘I couldn’t even remember her face when I read her name in the email.’ 

Still, she hasn’t just accepted her fate: she follows the usual measures, has taken extra safety precautions, and is preparing herself for the worst-case scenario. ‘I avoid having a lot of contact with others and I’m one of the few wearing a mask even in the gym. I’m also stocking up food, in case I receive the email that says my time to quarantine has come.’

Quarantine hotel

The risk of getting stuck in a sort of quarantine carousel is high in any student accommodation with many residents. In Utrecht, mayor Peter den Oudsten recently promised to look into the possibility of opening ‘quarantine hotels’ for students living in the riskiest circumstances. Student & Stad, the student party in the Groningen city council, is also considering ways to solve the problem. ‘We are talking about the issue and we’re evaluating a few solutions, like the one in Utrecht. However, we don’t have a defined plan right now.’


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