In something like a low-key reversal of the annual Operation Move-In, volunteer-assisted efforts have been underway to move most – but not all – of Georgia Southern University’s more than 4,700 campus resident students out of the Statesboro and Armstrong campuses by Sunday.
Last week was spring break, and this week is an added, emergency-related break in classes before they are slated to resume Monday with almost all courses being taught online. This is the situation at all 26 University System of Georgia institutions for the remainder of spring semester 2020 under the USG’s March 16 directive in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most students who usually live on campus but have other homes to go to are required to leave.
“Every effort is being made to have students out of their residence halls by March 29. Those for whom exceptions are being made will move out by May 9,” GS Director of Communications Jennifer Wise told the Statesboro Herald in a reply email. “Exceptions are being made for students who are unable to return to campus, those who are currently on-campus and cannot move out including international and out-of-state students, those with family members who are feeling ill, and those who do not have other living accommodations.”
Georgia Southern had 26,504 students enrolled on its three campuses and online last fall. But with most students residing in off-campus apartments or family homes, a minority, many of them first-year students, live in campus residence halls.
Prior to the current move-out, 3,950 students resided on the Statesboro campus and 766 on the Armstrong campus in Savannah, according to numbers received from the university this week. The Liberty campus in Hinesville has no on-campus housing.
Started spring break
The move-out actually started during spring break. Mainly students who had remained in the residence halls during the break were allowed to move out then, Wise said.
Then the assisted exodus began Monday. On the Statesboro campus, blue plastic bins with wheels, also used for Operation Move-In, were made available for students moving their belongings out of the dorms. University staff members were assigned to sanitize the bins between uses.
“A robust group of volunteers is managing traffic and elevators to ensure social distancing guidelines are met,” Wise said. “Volunteers are also managing check-out stations that are spaced in different locations allowing for both convenience and social distancing.”
Attention to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the USG for individuals to keep distance between them is one contrast between this move-out and a typical move-in. The move has also been staggered over a full week instead of concentrated into a weekend. Georgia Southern staff members notified all on-campus students about when and how to make the move, Wise said.
The volunteer group is a mix of students, faculty and staff, provided with gloves and hand sanitizer.
Some will stay
Students turn in their room keys at the checkout stations. Any who remain on campus will need permission to do so.
“Currently, approximately 150 students have been approved to stay on the Statesboro Campus and 100 students on the Armstrong Campus,” Wise answered Monday.
But she added, with emphasis, that “these are not the final numbers of those who will stay in the residence halls on the Statesboro and Armstrong campuses.”
As she had noted, the exceptions are for international and out-of-state students, others with family members who feel ill, and students who have no other place to live.
The University System of Georgia’s fall semester 2019 enrollment report showed Georgia Southern had 2,050 out-of-state students and 565 international, or “out-of-country,” students at that time.
Wise indicated that she did not have information on how many international students live off-campus or may have returned home.
In a phone interview, Eagle Dining Services Executive Director Jeff Yawn described how the university food service has been operating this week, after switching last Friday from regular dine-in options to providing only to-go lunches and dinners.
“We’re doing just to-go meals for the remaining students on campus, the ones that are moving out, as well as any faculty and staff that are currently still on campus due to their responsibilities,” Yawn said. “And we’re doing it in a fashion that complies with all of the rules that of course the university, the USG, the CDC and everyone has implemented and asked of us.”
In addition to trying to keep everyone six feet apart, dining services employees are wearing gloves, but they wear gloves anyway in normal circumstances.
“Food service guidelines are fairly consistent, almost exactly what’s being asked of everyone now,” Yawn said. “We are constantly washing hands, changing gloves, always changing utensils …. Now, since we have to-go boxes we’re not allowing guest interaction to be as close as it usually is.”
As of this week, hot meals are being cooked and placed in the to-go boxes. But Yawn said this and other things are subject to change as more information is received from decision-makers.
He described the number of lunches being served Tuesday as “minimal,” and GS Associate Vice President of Auxiliary Services Eddie Mills observed that there were perhaps a couple hundred students remaining on campus.
“We’ve also started to see some students change their minds,” Mills said. “They were going to stay, and then as more and more news comes out they’ve just decided to go ahead and pack up and leave.”
As of Tuesday, the plan remained to continue the to-go food service next week.
The university prefers for students to use EagleExpress, credit or debit cards or other cashless options but will still accept cash if it is the only means of payment someone has, Wise emailed.
All USG institutions are working as quickly as possible to issue partial refunds of room and board fees to students who are required to move out of on-campus housing and no longer have access dining services, the University System stated its website.
“More information will be forthcoming soon to our campus communities,” Wise wrote.
Meanwhile, all of Georgia Southern’s full-time and part-time employees are currently being paid, she said Monday.
“Every effort is being made to ensure the university’s operations continue and those who cannot perform their normal duties are provided opportunities to contribute elsewhere on campus,” she added.
The university’s Health Services clinics remain open for sickness and problem-related visits.
All students of USG institutions are eligible to consult doctors, nurses and mental health specialists about personal issues related to COVID-19, with consultations available at no cost for students enrolled in the USG Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) and $40 for non-enrolled students. There is also a 24/7 helpline available free to students.
Georgia Southern has a “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Info” link on the www.georgiasouthern.edu homepage.