Tuesday, June 9, 2020

University Housing and Dining adapts to changes in midst of COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the university community with a wide variety of unique and unprecedented challenges. In the midst of these challenges, University Housing and Dining continues to be a leader in adapting to meet the needs of students and ensure that individuals who are unable to return home are safe on campus. From an expedited move out, to take-out style dining, and higher cleaning standards in the residence halls, housing and dining is committed to maintaining a safe environment even in uncertain conditions.

Preparing for a safe move-out

The first of many challenges was making short notice arrangements for an unscheduled move-out. The decision to close most UI residence halls, allowed for the majority of students to take their belongings and remain at their home in order to safely maintain social distancing and limit the spread of the virus.

During move-out University Housing and Dining employed a variety of preventative measures to keep students and families safe. This included extending shifts to allow time for proper disinfection of carts and other high touchpoint areas, spaces such as restrooms were cleaned and disinfected per the university’s standard protocol, implementing an express checkout process so students did not have to interact with anyone at the desk, and prohibiting volunteers during move-out in order to limit contact with various individuals.

For students who needed to remain on campus, Stanley and Daum residence halls were identified as locations to house students. Cleaning in these halls was made a top priority to ensure the health and safety of the residents and staff occupying them. However, the procedures were outside of normal protocol. This ensured that only one person would clean and disinfect the spaces and the team was required to track who did so. This was all done by following required CDC guidelines of six feet distancing, flexing break time and spaces, and additional hand washing. Combined professional efforts prepared both of these building in less than five days. The entire process involved over 200 rooms and 12 floors of restrooms. Teri Sieve, Assistant director for custodial services, applauded the efforts of her team by saying, “Maintenance and Custodial staff have been and continue to be essential staff during this crisis. They have put themselves at risk to be at work by protecting students through professional cleaning and maintenance services, all at a higher level, under tremendous stress and time constraints. We could not have been prouder of their efforts.”

Another group of employees that has been hard at work are a limited number of resident assistants (RA). While students were not required to stay in their rooms during the period of virtual instruction, they were expected to follow CDC guidelines for social distancing. As an RA and international student, Ridhima Jagtap understands that it can be difficult to be away from family and friends during this time. “While it is challenging being away from my family and friends, I know that my role as an RA is more important during this time. I want to continue to support students, build community and start a conversation, even if it’s virtual,” Jagtap said.

Ensuring a safe dining experience

As a result of a small student population remaining on campus, only Burge Market Place remained open and serving students. The traditional self-serve dining experience that students are accustomed to had to change in order to support social distancing efforts. Rather than dining in the market place, students used an online ordering system developed specifically for the pandemic and picked up their meals. The dining team also installed floor dots to encourage six feet of separation, more sanitizing and self-swipe stations, along with detailed signage outlining the changes. When it came to disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, dining employees used a new and improved cleaner which is more effective in killing the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The team continued to disinfect door handles, tables, bathrooms, entrance and exit doors, at multiple times throughout the day. Lastly, dining team members were required to wear masks at all times, in an effort to ultimately help to minimize the spread of pathogens between students.

While this time is unprecedented and constantly changing, the University Housing and Dining team continues to work together to make this transition and seamless as possible. Hunter Aldred, a student and front desk clerk at Currier Residence Hall, said, “It's important to us to continue to serve students because I want everyone living in the residence halls to love their experience as much as I have. While the current situation isn't great, knowing we can have positive attitudes and be helpful to students makes me feel good about the work we are doing”. For more information on the university’s efforts, please visit coronavirus.uiowa.edu.