959 Franklin is an apartment building located on Franklin Boulevard in Eugene. With the school year soon approaching, University of Oregon students have growing concerns about how communal living could lead to the spread of COVID-19. (Summer Surgent-Gough/Emerald)

Since students began returning to Eugene after winter break, COVID-19 cases have been on the rise, particularly among those living in off-campus housing and apartments. Some students feel that property management companies are doing the bare minimum to keep them safe. However, there is only so much they can do to keep their residents from gathering in large groups.

Between Jan. 11 and Jan. 18, case reports among off-campus students nearly doubled, going from 59 to 105. The following week remained high with82 off-campus cases. 

Off-campus students have made up 70% of cases associated with the university since June. While students living in the residence halls have RAs enforcing regulations and giving real consequences, those living off campus have more freedom. Property managers for apartment complexes near campus have been working hard to minimize risk since the beginning of the pandemic, but they’re still expected to honor their residents’ privacy.  

“At the end of the day, there are certain boundaries that apartment complexes can’t cross,” said David Sonovskiy, a sophomore at the University of Oregon living at The 515.

American Campus Communities owns The 515, 959 Franklin and 2125 Franklin, three large student apartment complexes in the area. All of their properties require residents to sign a COVID-19 personal responsibility acknowledgement. “This includes a pledge to practice physical distancing, wear a face covering when required and perform a daily wellness self-checklist to identify any COVID-19 symptoms,” according to the website.

Sonovskiy said that The 515’s management has put in some effort to enforce these guidelines. They put up signs reminding residents to wear masks in the lobby and encourage only two people to ride in the elevators at once. Sometimes, the security guard at the front will ask residents to put their masks on. However, Sonovskiy said that residents often don’t follow these rules. 

“They put up signs to say only two people can be in the elevator at once, but I’ve been in there with five or six people before,” he said.

Sonovskiy said security often looks the other way when residents bring groups of people up, as long as they are all wearing masks. The only time when security is able to intervene is when another resident makes a noise complaint, in which they can ask guests to leave. 

“If the people living here don’t want to follow the rules and they’re not making noise, there’s not much that they can do,” Sonovskiy said. “They can’t just go around doing room checks like RAs.” 

Sierra Goerlich, a senior at UO, agrees that the apartment complexes don’t have very much influence on their residents, so they can’t take all of the blame for the rise in cases. 

“The majority of my frustration lies with the students,” she said. “I just don’t understand the need to go out right now.”

Goerlich has been living at 959 Franklin since this past fall. She lives in an apartment alone, and has kept herself isolated for the majority of the pandemic. She says she feels disappointed with how few of her peers have been taking social distancing seriously. She and Sonovskiy both said they’ve noticed a lot of noise in their hallways and think that a lot of their neighbors have been going out. 

“I would love to hang out with my friends right now; I want nothing more than that,” Goerlich said, “but it doesn’t feel right to me.”

She also feels that the university is somewhat responsible for the high case numbers. Administration did not come out with a solid plan for fall term until late August. A June email from UO President Michael Schill said that they estimated “over 70% of all classes will be entirely in person,” which was far from the reality of fall and winter terms. Goerlich said she feels that if UO had a solid, realistic plan early on, students would be more inclined to avoid going out.

“I think that if the University of Oregon were taking it more seriously to begin with and had an actual plan before the students came back for fall term, then that level of seriousness would be matched by the students,” she said.