Georgia Southern University is moving forward with plans to relaunch in-person classes Aug. 17, with social distancing in classrooms augmented by Zoom-based distance learning and with masks required almost everywhere. But no special limits have been placed on the capacity of residence halls.
Indeed, after a staggered, week-long Operation Move-In set to begin Monday, the residence halls on the Statesboro campus should be full, said Shay Little, Ph.D., Georgia Southern’s new vice president for student affairs. On the job since June 1, she has responsibilities over campus housing, student activities, recreation, counseling and health services and was interviewed last week about how student life aspects of the university experience have been modified because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a number of touchpoints with our incoming first-year class, and all those touchpoints and check-ins that we have done with that group indicate they do plan to come and they want to be here,” Little said. “We fully expect our residence halls in Statesboro to be full.”
Overall, the university has space in on-campus housing for less than one-fourth of its total enrollment, and gives first-year students priority for on-campus housing. As of last fall, Georgia Southern had 26,054 students enrolled at its three campuses and online. But the Statesboro campus has on-campus housing for about 4,050 students, while the Armstrong campus in Savannah has on-campus housing for about 1,300. The Liberty campus in Hinesville is a commuter campus, with no housing.
The Armstrong residence halls should be about 70% full, Little said.
One fact that helps provide some privacy among students is that the vast majority of Georgia Southern’s on-campus housing consists of apartments or suites, she said. In contrast to old-style dormitories where two students shared a place that was little more than a bedroom and dozens shared a bathroom, the suites usually have either two or four occupants, each in separate bedrooms, who share a bathroom.
“We’re reminding them that it’s their responsibility to keep that clean and to disinfect those surfaces regularly, and we’re encouraging them to think about how to maintain social distance while they’re in their room,” Little said.
The university leadership has made some significant changes in rules and equipment for on-campus housing.
Probably the biggest change is that no visitors will be allowed inside the residence halls. This will remain in effect until the university changes its COVID-19 safety guidelines, which are based on national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Georgia Department of Public Health recommendations, Little said.
One very limited exception to the no-visitors rule is that each student is allowed to bring two people to help with move-in.
For years, the university has deployed a small army of volunteers during Operation Move-In to greet and assist arriving students, often accompanied by several friends or family members. It traditionally makes for a weekend of intense traffic on and near the Statesboro campus.
“That’s one of the signature welcoming things at Georgia Southern, but we don’t feel like that’s appropriate this year, and so we’re encouraging all students to bring only two people with them to move-in,” Little said.
The “operation” that would have occurred Aug. 14-15 has also been spread out over a week, to begin Aug. 10 and probably continue into the first day of classes, Aug. 17, she said.
Students have to sign up in advance for a check-in time. Their arrivals are being scheduled to prevent all of the students on one floor from moving in at the same time.
Volunteers, mainly from staff and faculty, will still be part of Operation Move-In. But working in shifts over several days, they will wear masks and have a more limited role. Volunteers will assist with keys and direct traffic from two drive-up locations, in the Paulson Stadium and Hanner Fieldhouse parking lots.
In messaging to students, the university is also reminding them, repeatedly, not come to campus if they are not well and not to bring move-in guests who don’t feel well, Little said.
Masks and more
The University System of Georgia’s emergency rule that protective face coverings should be worn in indoor locations and outside in places where social distancing cannot be maintained also applies in common areas of residence halls.
Each student on arrival will be issued two reusable cloth masks from the supply of almost 70,000 ordered by the university. Students moving into the campus residence halls will also be issued thermometers to check their own temperatures.
Students who reside off-campus are not being issued thermometers, but they will get the masks. They can pick them up at welcome tents that will operate during the first two days of class, including four tents of the Statesboro campus, two on the Armstrong campus and one on the Liberty campus, Little said.
Since student orientation was done by all-virtual means, each campus will also have a “card office” for students to pick up their ID and request information, she said.
Dining hall changes
Although dining halls remain open for dining-in, seating has been severely restricted, and the university is encouraging students to get their meals to-go. All meals will be served in to-go containers, and self-service options have been eliminated.
Seating in the main Dining Commons on the Statesboro campus has been reduced from 1,100 seats to just 290. The Lakeside Commons has been reduced from 504 seats to 132. The Galley on the Armstrong campus is reduced from 400 seats to 104.
Food service employees will have their temperatures taken at the beginning of each shift.
These details, and others, were supplied by GS Director of Communications Jennifer Wise in a reply email.
Chick-fil-A and Starbucks will operate their on-campus locations but are not allowing seating inside the restaurants, and Chick-fil-A will have a limited menu for the first 90 days after reopening Aug. 10, Wise reported.
Last week, Georgia Southern launched its new CARES Center, with the acronym standing for COVID-19 Answers, Resources, Evaluation and Self-reporting. Students and employees can use the GS mobile app, website, internal portal, email or phone to contact the center. They can ask questions related to the coronavirus, self-report test results or symptoms and get an evaluation of their situation.
Georgia Southern has both an employee CARES team and a student CARES team prepared to respond, Littles said.
“Those teams are working to provide the appropriate modifications to work or school as those individuals need it,” she said. “So, I’m really proud of the way we’re wrapping our arms around the community to support everyone.”
In a follow-up question Wise relayed to Little by email, the Statesboro Herald asked if Georgia Southern’s top administrators had any second thoughts about the Aug. 17 opening and if anything could prompt a postponement now. Little said they are in communicating regularly with
state and local public health officials and experts, including some on campus, hospital administrators and local government and state University System officials.
“We continue to diligently monitor the situation and make informed decisions accordingly,” she said.
The Herald also asked how confident she would be of the measures to protect from COVID-19 if she were the parent of a current Georgia Southern student.
“My daughter graduated from Georgia Southern, and I am as confident now as I was then to send a student here,” Little replied. “The precautions we have outlined, the plans we have developed, and the safety measures we have enacted have all been done in partnership with local and state public health experts with the overarching goal of ensuring the health and safety of our university community.”