How to Live with Roommates…and COVID-19

Living with roommates in college has benefits of social connection and shared costs. But everyone you encounter – roommates included – will have a varying risk tolerance for behaviors related to COVID-19. Some may have a condition that puts them at serious risk of illness or be close to someone who does. When out and about, you can help protect you and your community by wearing your mask, waiting at a distance, and washing your hands often.

When home with roommates, things get a bit more complicated. There are ways to stay healthy and share your living space. Remember these suggested guidelines help everyone exist more safely around one another.

Before you move in

Have a conversation with your roommates. Discuss house rules.

  • Who is allowed in the residence?
  • What will social distancing look like outside of the home for each roommate (indoor/outdoor, with masks/without masks, distanced/close, strangers/people you’ve spoken with about risk)? How will you transport yourselves around campus and town? What do household members have as unavoidable risks such as workspaces and classrooms?
  • How frequently will you clean and disinfect your space?
  • What will your house guidelines be? See below for example guidelines to get you started.

Suggested house guidelines

  • Limit visitors and guests inside your residence.
  • Wash your hands often. Consider agreeing to wash your hands each time you enter your residence, after blowing your nose/coughing/sneezing, after using the restroom, before eating or preparing food, after cleaning.
  • Don’t host or attend parties or large gatherings. (Remember – it won’t be like this forever!)
  • Clean and disinfect regularly, especially those often touched surfaces and objects such as tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, faucet and cabinet handles, devices, remote controls.

Setting up your space


  • Wash your hands thoroughly before eating and after cleaning.
  • Use separate serving dishes – so instead of sticking everyone’s hands into a bag of chips, pour a portion into a bowl.
  • Use a dishwasher if possible to sanitize dishes.


Arrange furniture to facilitate social distancing. Create reminders about bringing a mask when you or your roommates leave home.


Move beds in shared bedrooms so heads of sleepers are as far from each other as possible. Avoid bunk beds if possible.


Bring a caddy for your personal items so these items don’t touch the bathroom countertop. Bring your tote back to your personal space rather than leaving it in a shared bathroom.

Bring your own towels and make sure each person has separate hand/face towels.


Do your own laundry. If you (generously) help a roommate with their laundry, wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Remember, masks should be washed after each use and can be washed with your regular laundry. Use the warmest setting appropriate for the fabric in your load and regular detergent. Dry masks in a dryer on the highest heat or air dry in the sunshine. If you can’t wash your mask after each use, use a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide to mist it and let it dry before reusing.


Some complexes include shared spaces such as laundry facilities, stairwells, elevators, pools, workout spaces, game rooms, etc. Maintain 6 feet of distance between yourself and everyone that you do not live with. In areas that are small – like stairwells and elevators – consider going one at a time.


These are the best spots for hanging out with friends at a distance. Invest in a lawn chair. Wear a hat or bring a shade umbrella.

When Conflict Arises

Home should feel like a safe space, but there may still be times when a roommate’s behavior make you feel at risk.

Remember to start with agreements about behavior before problems arise. When conflict happens, the first step is still a conversation. Stay calm and..

  • Express specific observations about a situation or concern, not your judgments or evaluations. Ex. “I saw that you were hanging out with friends without masks and were closer than 6 feet from each other. We agreed that we wouldn’t do that during the pandemic.”
  • Disclosing your feelings about the situation or concern, i.e., genuine statements about your emotions and sensations, not your beliefs about what you think others have done to you. Ex. “I felt scared and exposed when I saw you.”
  • Identifying what you need or value. Ex. “I really value shared agreements about behavior – especially during a pandemic.”
  • Requesting specific actions that would start to meet your needs or support your values, not demanding character changes or making ultimatums. Ex. “Would you be willing to revisit our agreements together and update them as needed?”

If your conversation does not go well, you can consult with your RA (if living in a residence hall) or other supportive students or adults for guidance and support.

Ultimately you cannot control others’ behavior. If your roommate is not behaving in a way that you deem safe, take steps to help yourself by limiting contact as much as possible, avoiding shared spaces, wearing a mask and asking your roommate to wear a mask in shared spaces.

When someone in your home gets sick

Students should contact Campus Health if they experience symptoms of COVID-19 that cannot be attributed to other causes such as allergies. Campus Health can be reached through the Patient Portal or by calling 919-966-2281.

People with symptoms should…

  • Stay home. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Only leave home to get necessary medical care. Before going to Campus Health or any medical facility, please call the facility first for instructions.
  • Separate themselves from others in the residence by staying alone in their specified bedroom, even to eat.
  • Use a separate bathroom.
  • Not prepare or serve food to others.
  • Not handle pets or other animals.
  • Not allow visitors.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others.

Clean and disinfect your residence. Monitor everyone for symptoms. Once a roommate has a confirmed positive test result, all members of the household should quarantine as close contacts.

If your roommate is told to quarantine

If your roommate was a close contact of a person known to have COVID-19 or if they have recently traveled internationally, they may be asked to quarantine. That does not mean that everyone in the residence must also, but it does mean those sharing living spaces with the person in quarantine should stay at least 6 feet apart, wear a mask and monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

If it is not possible for the person who is sick or under quarantine to safely stay away from others in your residence, Campus Health or the Dean of Students can help.

UNC support for those in Quarantine and Isolation

Being cut off from the world is hard, let alone with the rigor of Quarantine and Isolation protocols and the stress/fear of sickness. We can help if this happens to you, your roommate, or a friend outside your home. Campus Health is available to assist with UNC student health care needs by calling 919-966-2281. Students asked to quarantine or isolate for COVID-19 should connect with Campus Health if they are on or off campus. Campus Health will regularly communicate with students and can help coordinate testing, contact tracing, and on-campus services coordination (food, housing, classes) as needed. For emergency health needs – call 911.

Being an attentive student while ill with COVID-19, or when someone you live with is ill with COVID-19, is virtually impossible. We understand! Please take the time you need to care for yourself and your housemates. Contact instructors sharing that you are experiencing a personal COVID-related matter and may need accomodation with current assignment or rescheduling an exam.

If you or your roommate still needs support after contacting your instructors and Campus Health, please email to let us know.  Use “Personal COVID Matter” in the subject line and include full name and PID, as well as any relevant course details. We will partner with students to resolve situations and can connect students with an advisor in their respective college or school, assist with housing concerns, and support students in the ways they need.

How to help a friend who is under quarantine or isolation orders

If you know or are living with someone struggling with COVID-related illness or quarantine, you can show kindness to them by:

  • Calling, texting or video chatting with them to let them know you are there to support them. Seeing or hearing from a friend can show them kindness while still practicing physical distancing.
  • Drop off food or drinks at their door. Ask if they need any items the next time you go to the store. Offer to run to the pharmacy for them. Drop off or digitally send items you know they enjoy (magazines, comic books, craft supplies, music, etc).
  • Offer to do their yard work, take out their trash, or bring in their mail.
  • Offer to help with their pets.
  • Keep them informed with reliable news.
  • Ask about finances to see if they need support.
  • Help them create or maintain daily routine.
  • Get creative and come up with ideas among mutual friends. Consider sending snail mail, playing online games together, watch a Netflix series together, or listen to the same audiobooks.
  • Take care of yourself and your own mental health too.

While it is inevitable that many people will experience negative impacts of coronavirus, there are steps you can take to support a loved one who has been impacted. In its most basic sense, listen with compassion, be present, and take cues about what you can do to best offer your support and care.

5 thoughts on “How to Live with Roommates…and COVID-19

  1. Omar Ruiz-Diaz October 14, 2020 / 9:32 am

    I living in a roommate accommodation facility and there is some level of political issue here, I am guessing. Because, and especially the landlord who’s pro-somebody, doesn’t use a mask and haven’t respect the guideline in common areas as suggested by the scientific community. I explained to him that I don’t own a car in case there is some emergency issue and I have to be eventually translated to a Hospital, 60 kms away. It’s not an easy thing considering that the winter is around the corner and moving away from here is a complicated task. This is a small town and, despite we are in a COVID’s red zone, some “ideologized” people do not seems to understand the situation…


    • HealthyHeels October 23, 2020 / 9:51 am

      That sounds really frustrating and difficult. We hear you, and wish politics were not a part of pandemic response. We hope you do what you can to protect yourself.


  2. Mask Wearer August 18, 2020 / 5:08 pm

    My roommate and I were just talking about this! Great read. Thank you for the helpful info.


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