College students are no strangers to roommate contracts, norms, and "house meetings." Normally the topics are bedtimes, guests, music volume, drinking and smoking, or chores. For students moving back in with college roommates during the pandemic, the conversation has new stakes. Street interviewed three students to discuss their experience having the “COVID Talk" with their roommates. 

Micah Gill (C ‘21) returned to Philadelphia from California to live in an off–campus house with eight other guys. Wanting to make the most out of their time at Penn, the roommates decided they would come back to Philly to spend their last year together. However, they knew how important it was to set up rules regarding COVID–19, especially living at a house with such a big group. 

Micah says, “Some of us are more strict than others, naturally, on COVID. So we agreed early on that we had to kind of cater to the least common denominator—meaning whoever’s strictest on COVID—whether it’s because they have older parents, or just general strictness, we made sure to respect that and so we kind of played around with policies.” 

They considered a number of options, including barring any non–residents from entering. Ultimately, however, they settled for a reasonable–yet–safe rule: only significant others are allowed inside the house. 

Micah feels lucky that he has a backyard that he can use to host socially distant hang–outs—including Shabbat dinners—with people outside of his house. 

Gabi Weiss (E ‘21) is in a similar situation—living in an off–campus house with seven other girls. She says their living arrangement is really conducive to safety. The house has three floors, with each roommate having a single bedroom. Additionally, some of the rooms are “apartment style,” meaning that only a couple of people have to share the main kitchen. 

Gabi and her roommates also played around with possible rules, finally deciding that they would stay within a social bubble or “pod.” 

She says, “we pretty much said that anyone who comes into our house should be wearing a mask. We don’t let people into the house for the most part.” 

Their bubble mainly consists of their roommates and nearby residents, who visit pretty often. Even though they are comfortable with the neighbors, they continue to take precautions and wear masks around each other. 

Lily Khabie (C ‘23) also discusses the concept of social pods. She mentions that before coming back to Penn, she joined her three roommates in a FaceTime call to discuss the precautions they could take against COVID. 

During the call, the roommates discussed different topics, such as the rules for having people over or going out. Knowing that they wanted to be more on the safe side, and coming from families that strictly adhered to CDC guidelines, they decided to establish a group of friends that would be a part of their bubble. 

“What we’re trying to do now is trying to stay in a pod or a bubble with some of our close friends and not really branch out so much out of that. If we were to see someone who’s not in our bubble we would do it outside, distanced,” Lily says. 

Lily mentioned that being a part of a pod has been effective so far, pointing out that she trusts those in the group to stay safe. However, she acknowledges that there can be some uncertainty. 

“The only hard thing is you can’t control anyone, and it’s hard to be in a pod. So if you’re in a pod with eight people, for example, and one of them isn’t as safe and goes out and gets exposed, then it just exposes the whole entire group. So obviously everything comes with a risk, but we decided that the least risk possible would be to have a pod.” 

Ultimately, these experiences show the importance of open communication within an apartment, house, or even just a group of friends. As uncertainty about the virus runs high, having a set plan that makes people feel safe is crucial. 


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