Talking to your roommate about COVID-19

Hey there–we made it to spring semester of 2021! You are doing it. Feel proud.

While the state of Wisconsin has begun the vaccination process and UW–Madison has Safer Badgers, we still have a long way to go and need to abide by precautions — face coverings, distancing, and handwashing — to keep ourselves and our campus community safe. As we all keep saying, we’re in this together.

Remember these important guidelines from University Health Services —– if you test positive for COVID-19, you should isolate yourself immediately so you don’t spread the virus to others. If you know you have been exposed to COVID-19 or receive a contact tracing notification, you should quarantine yourself immediately. You could become positive for the virus for up to 14 days after exposure.

One of the places you need to feel comfortable and secure — particularly when confronted with isolation or quarantine — is in your room or in your home. That can be hard if your roommate or others who share your home aren’t on the same page about healthy behaviors during COVID-19. Here are a few ways to start the conversation.

Prepare First

Before talking with your roommate, think about or write down what is on your mind. What points of clarification or agreement would help you feel more comfortable right now? Do you want to talk about sanitizing commonly touched surfaces; expectations around having visitors; what to do if one of you gets sick; or plan for a possible at-home quarantine? Pick a few topics to discuss — you don’t need to do all of them at once. Indiana University prepared this excellent discussion guide if you’d like a pre-made list of questions to use.

Invite Your Roommate to Talk

If you already have a standing date with your roommate, like a weekly dinner or Sunday check-in, that would be a good time to bring up COVID-19 precautions. If you don’t typically get together with your roommate, try saying something like, “Can we talk about COVID-19 and how to stay healthy this semester? If you want to take some time before we talk about this, that’s okay, or I’m ready to talk now if you want.”

Share Your Thoughts

Start by sharing the thoughts you prepared—tell your roommate what is on your mind and what questions or concerns you’d like to address.

Think through how you would answer these questions, for example. Then ask your roommate to share their thoughts:

  • If one of us tests positive for COVID-19, how will we communicate this with the other?
  • How do we feel about inviting friends or family into our living space or visiting others?
  • Will we wash or sanitize our hands every time we return home or enter a common room from another location?
  • In which situations do you wear a face covering and engage in physical distancing? Why or why not? (Remember that testing only reflects a point in time and shouldn’t be considered a reason not to wear a face covering or physically distance.)

Troubleshooting COVID Conversations

If your roommate isn’t receptive to talking, reach out to a campus resource or someone you trust – your advisor, family, health care provider, housefellow or the Dean of Students Office – for advice or ideas to open up the conversation and to help it go smoothly.

If you live in University Housing, review the FAQ page for additional resources and answers to COVID-19-related questions. There are specific guidelines around quarantine and isolation for students living in university housing and students living off campus.

Again, we’re in this together, and warmer weather is on the way. Reach out if you need support!