Mold rumors spread on campus despite only one confirmed case

Widespread illness on campus sparked student concern, exacerbated by Yik Yak


Ellen Kanzinger

University Facilities has received six work-order requests for suspected mold in Gaines residence hall in recent weeks. But after investigating several rooms, most reported cases wound up simply being dust.

Bri Hatch, Editor-in-Chief

Rumors of mold issues in Gaines residence hall are circulating around campus amid an outbreak of seasonal illnesses and allergies. But only one case has been confirmed, according to University Facilities. 

“I did find one spot in Gaines; it was about three inches in diameter on the ceiling of one dorm,” said Mike Minnick, director of operations and maintenance. “We cut a hole in the ceiling, went through, and there was a pipe in there that was sweating. So, we re-wrapped it with insulation, and then we of course removed that three-inch piece.”

Minnick said Facilities has received six work-order requests for mold in recent weeks. He even had one parent call with concerns. But after investigating the rooms, and even going door-to-door in Gaines to check others, Minnick said most cases wound up simply being dust. 

“We found dust in a lot of them, but the only mold we actually found was that one small spot which we fixed. And it was just in one room,” Minnick said. “It wasn’t part of any of the air conditioning. We actually pulled vents off; we looked in ducts; we’ve tried to see if we could find something, we just — in a good way — we didn’t find anything.”

Minnick said students who have filed work orders cited increased coughing as a potential symptom of suspected mold. 

“The sad part about this time of year is there’s all these dead leaves and moisture on the ground, so the mold spore count outside is incredible right now,” Minnick said. “It’ll go away as things get cold and humidity level goes down. But this time of year is always tough for anybody that has allergies.”

Hannah Phillips, assistant director or residence life at Washington and Lee, said students filing reports “have every right to be concerned about their own health.”

“Everybody’s very sensitive to not wanting to get sick right now, because there’s so much going around, and it’s that time of year with finals,” Phillips said. “You get the sniffles, and you don’t know if you have COVID. You don’t know if you have the flu, you don’t know if you have just the cold or allergies.”

This confusion “places a lot of stress on the student,” Phillips said. Especially in tight-knit first-year halls, rumors fly fast. 

“A friend tells a friend tells a friend,” she said. “They’re all telling each other, ‘Hey, I got this, do you have anything like this?’”

Minnick also said many students had heard from their resident advisor (RA) to check their rooms for mold. Phillips said one RA had approached her on Oct. 31 after students became “all worked up.”

“Health and safety of our residents are our primary concern, especially any situation like this,” Phillips said. Protocol for RAs in situations of mold or mildew is to immediately contact Facilities, which is what the residence life team did. 

But mold claims were also being spread on Yik Yak, adding to widespread concern. 

“Yik Yak’s a dangerous thing,” Phillips said. “For there to still be people saying stuff about mold, in theory, they’re not wrong. But it is a very isolated incident. It’s not spreading anywhere.”

Katherine Hudson, ‘26, discovered the mold in her Gaines room above an air duct. She said she had to contact Facilities twice because of the confusion. 

“Other people had submitted mold cases so they investigated a few of those, but never came into our room,” Hudson wrote in an email. 

“They didn’t tell us that they had never found mold in the other rooms who submitted mold cases and declared that all of the rooms who submitted must not actually have mold,” she said. “But, our room did, so we had to call them again so they could come actually take a look.” 

Minnick encourages students to reach out to Facilities if they see anything that raises suspicion. Mold requires moisture, he said, so students should look in environments with water, specifically checking for leaks. 

“We’re going to check out every request we get,” Minnick said. “Because ultimately, if we’ve seen a trend, we want to figure out what’s causing it. We just haven’t found anything like that.”