Yale readies hundreds of rooms for medical personnel, first responders

A sign, "First Responders Entry," next to a flower bed.

As the world grapples with waves of patients from the coronavirus pandemic, Yale has moved aggressively to make emergency campus housing available for medical personnel on the front lines of the fight against the virus.

By April 3, Yale had prepared 300 dormitory rooms for health care workers in New Haven who are caring for COVID-19 patients, as well as for local first responders. The first person to use one of the rooms, a New Haven firefighter, arrived Thursday evening. Yale is preparing hundreds of additional rooms.

I am deeply grateful to the students, faculty, and staff who made it possible for the university to offer safe housing for people who are directly saving lives and protecting public health,” said President Peter Salovey. “It was an immense university-wide operation that demonstrated Yale’s commitment to service and to our home city.”

The housing is intended as safe, convenient shelter for local doctors, nurses, and first responders who do not want to return home for fear of exposing their families to the virus.

The rooms are spread around Yale’s campus, and intentionally not adjacent. Occupants will have access to a private bathroom wherever possible. Each room has been outfitted with fresh linens, pillows, blankets, and toiletries, and Yale Dining will provide drop-off meals for people staying in the rooms. The university will provide a third-party laundry service for guests’ clothing, and has arranged for nearby parking.

Yale has also organized a check-in program, coordinated by Yale Conferences & Events, to help guests access their rooms.

Two women sitting at separate tables, displaying large "Yale" signs.

All of us on campus feel extremely grateful to the health care professionals and first responders working during this crisis,” said Donald Filer, Yale’s associate vice president for global strategy, who is leading the effort to prepare the rooms. “We want to do anything we can to make their efforts a little easier.”

The rooms for COVID-19 frontline workers are in buildings set aside for their use. Students were relocated, as necessary. A small number of students who were unable to return home remain on campus.

All of those rooms were full of the students’ belongings,” said Dev Hawley, Yale’s director of facilities operations and university planning. “We established an entire moving operation to pack and move bedrooms, common rooms, and bathrooms — not only for the incoming guests, but for the students on campus who needed to be relocated.”

Hawley said dozens of campus officials and staff members were involved in the massive effort. It involved redirecting airflow in buildings to bring in more fresh air, assigning sinks and toilets to individual guest rooms, conducting safety checks on every elevator, faucet, showerhead, and sink, and coordinating with the heads and deans of residential colleges, who will remain present. Personnel also created and positioned signs to help incoming guests find their way.

Ronald Gitelman, senior administrator for Yale’s vehicle fleet, has helped coordinate volunteers for room preparation.

We’ve had volunteers from across the university helping us, from the president’s office, HR, the libraries, dining halls, facilities, housing — as many as 45 volunteers on some days,” Gitelman said. “Everyone comes in, ready to go, with a spirit of helpfulness. It’s been impressive.”

A bed on which three rolled towels rest in the shape of the letter "Y."

The volunteers, along with staff from a moving company privately contracted by Yale, quickly and carefully packed students’ belongings into boxes, labeled them with suite and room numbers, and carried them to waiting trucks for delivery to storage facilities.

Hawley and Gitelman said many student rooms had a lot to pack: When spring recess began March 6, students were planning to return; as a public health measure, the university subsequently decided they would complete the semester online from home. Professional movers, supervised by Yale volunteers, packed clothing, books, lamps, TVs, dorm refrigerators, furniture, microwave ovens, and an assortment of personal items.

Once the rooms were empty, custodial staff thoroughly cleaned them and the bathrooms, disposing of items that couldn’t be packed, such as fluids and food.

All workers and volunteers wore protective gloves and masks, and kept a safe distance from each other as they proceeded swiftly with their urgent task.

Gitelman said volunteers and the professional movers have worked closely with officials and personnel from the city of New Haven’s parking department to ensure that emergency “no parking” areas were in place for moving trucks. This allowed movers to avoid crossing or blocking city streets.

This was a tremendous undertaking in a short amount of time,” Gitelman said. “Everyone involved, to a person, wants to do their part. They’re doing it out of their love for Yale and their love for New Haven.”

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Part of the In Focus Collection: In crisis, Yale and New Haven stand united

Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326