Burke student workers try to stay safe on the job

Jessa Reid Bolling | @jr_bolling, News Editor

For some students working in housing, there’s a choice between their job and their safety. 

Carlee Fernandez, a senior majoring in criminal justice, worked as a desk assistant in Burke Residence Hall when students living in Burke West were forced to relocate to other residence halls on campus. The move, which occurred just a week into the semester, made way for Burke West to be used as an isolation facility to house COVID-19-positive students. 

As COVID-19-positive students came to check into the building, Fernandez said she and her coworkers were left to figure out for themselves how to navigate the check in process while keeping themselves safe. 

“The COVID-positive students just keep coming in to the desk to check into isolation because there’s no protocol in place,” Fernandez said. “We weren’t even informed Burke was actually going to be used, we were told it was ‘just in case’ they needed the space.”

One of Fernandez’s coworkers tried to get answers, going to Burke’s community and directors, but they weren’t sure what to do either, Fernandez said.

“The COVID hotline was called, and all they did was ask what our protocol was because they didn’t know what to do,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said that the risk of the virus was not worth putting her health at risk, so she decided to leave her job as a desk assistant. 

“My parents and I just didn’t feel like it was worth risking my life to work there,” Fernandez said. “I hate that so many people are in the same boat. I wish our health & safety was actually a priority to [the University], if it was, none of us would have been put in this position in the first place.”

Bailey Lanai, a senior studying psychology, works as a desk assistant in Burke. Lanai said he was initially very worried that he would contract COVID-19 while on the job once the dorms were used as isolation rooms. Now that the Burke desk assistants work out of Parham Residence Hall, he says the student employees are in a safer environment.

“I wish the University had acted sooner to accommodate us, but I am glad that we are now in a more safe position,” Lanai said. 

UA Associate Vice President for Communications Monica Watts said in an email that the University is working around the clock to provide the campus community with information to help them during this pandemic. 

“Every day we improve our processes as we strive to meet our commitments to our employees and our students,” Watts said. “We appreciate the candid feedback from everyone who has a stake in the future. It is guiding our forward progress. We’re looking forward to receiving some assistance for our hotline and COVID Support team.”

Watts said that the Housing and Residential Community staff encourages students working in housing to develop new ways to interact with residents through virtual programs and meet-and-greets while maintaining the university’s health and safety protocols.

“We greatly appreciate their hard work and dedication, now more than ever,” Watts said. 

Since the first day of classes on Aug. 19, UA has reported 2,354 positive test results for students and faculty.