Townhouses on Rosemary Lane in Durham are being sanitized after three University of New Hampshire students notified their landlord they had tested positive for COVID-19, raising concerns among town officials about the true extent of the threat in the community.
Although UNH moved to remote learning after spring break, a number of students remained in Durham off-campus housing. The high-end townhouses where students tested positive are located near the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics.
The four townhouses can house up to 32 students.
Ken Rubin, managing partner at Madbury Capital and one of the owners of the townhouses, said that on May 5 about 20 people were at an outside Cinco de Mayo celebration, which which was disbanded by Durham police.
No arrests were made, according to the police log.
Rubin said two students notified them on May 12 of their positive tests. The third reported being positive for COVID-19 on May 15, he said.
Rubin said landlords have no authority to ask tenants in good standing to leave or stay in their leased apartments, so they did not ask them to self-quarantine.
“We understand that the tenants were given quarantine instructions from the clinic that performed the test and we believe the tenants intended to follow the guidance,” Rubin said.
Rubin said that though his company did not notify Durham officials, it did share some information with UNH. Madbury Capital is cooperating with the college to ensure students stay healthy when in-person classes resume in the fall.
“All of the landlords in Durham are working cooperatively with UNH,” Rubin said. “While no one can make the virus go away, we believe UNH is on top of the right issues to make going to college safe.”
Town Administrator Todd Selig said he has concerns about people living off-campus not being required to disclose their health status to landlords and landlords not having to notify the town if they have tenants who test positive for COVID-19.
“The only way we would have an indication is if there was an emergency call at a given location, the dispatchers would let the fire or police or ambulance crew know that there has been a positive test at that location and that extra precautions should be taken, but until and unless there is an emergency call, there would not be a way for us to know,” Selig said.
Selig is encouraging landlords who know of positive COVID-19 tests in their off-campus student housing to notify the town, so officials can inform first responders before an emergency call comes in.
Selig also worries that when asked where they live, UNH students typically give their hometowns, which might be why the state has just 20 positive results listed for Durham.
“We’ve had concerns because the numbers reported on the state forms don’t seem to correspond with real, on-the-ground knowledge that we might have locally,” Selig said.
Selig hopes that when students return for in-person learning, UNH uses its extensive lab systems to conduct COVID-19 testing.
Paul Raymond, with the New Hampshire Joint Information Center, said Wednesday that contact tracing does not include notifying landlords.
“The contact investigation does work to notify people who have been in close contact and are required to be notified by law and for privacy reasons. It’s going to stay at that,” Raymond said.
According to the May 11 weekly summary report released by the NH Department of Health and Human Services, there have been 448 COVID-19 infections of people between 20 and 29 years old in the state. There were 10 hospitalizations and two deaths.
The only age group with more infections was the 50- to 59-year-old population. According to the summary report, that age group had 583 infections, 50 hospitalizations and zero deaths.
As of May 20, there were 3,868 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire.