COVID-19 has forced UCR to face many new challenges since mid-March, and this year’s freshmen Move-In Day was no different. From Saturday, Sept. 26 to Monday, Sept. 28, new students arrived in strategic waves in order to safely situate themselves in their respective, single-occupancy dormitory rooms.
However, even prior to moving in, incoming students were expected to adhere to a strict set of precautionary measures. Before their arrival, all residents were required to monitor themselves for any possible symptoms of coronavirus in UCR’s Daily Wellness Survey for the duration of 14 days in order to verify their health status before officially moving in. If they had displayed any potential coronavirus symptoms, they were expected to remain at home for at least 72 hours until their symptoms abated. In addition, all residents had to submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 14 days of their allotted move-in date to Housing Services. Once done, freshmen were given a Move-In Day pass and an online QR code that enabled residents to check in. Without a pass, they were not allowed to begin their move-in process.
The check-in process itself was split across about 18 various half-hour time slots each day and arrayed in a way that limited the amount of move-ins on any particular hall at a single time. It was conducted by drive-through, utilizing a contactless format by scanning the QR codes that had been given to students earlier. In an interview with The Highlander, Bob Brumbaugh, the senior director of Housing Services, acknowledged the difference in numbers that the pandemic wrought on the annual freshmen move-in. ”Though we have in past years efficiently and effectively moved in 3,500 residents in one day,” he stated. He went on to state that this year they planned to move approximately 900 residents in over the course of three days to help insure the ability to physically distance residents at all points of the check-in process.
Immediately after checking in, students were provided with a “wellness kit”, which included a forehead thermometer, a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a bottle to be filled with disinfectant solution at the Resident Services Office. For the process of moving, residents were only to use sanitized, wheeled carts to transport their belongings to and from their vehicles to the assigned rooms. Students were also not allowed to bring any guests, familial or not, into the residential buildings to help in an attempt to minimize the amount of contact.
Moreover, once settled into their rooms, all residents were required to limit interaction with their hall and keep their outdoor time restricted for essential trips like purchasing food or visiting the Health Center for about one week. After the seven-day period, students are expected to get COVID-19 testwork done by UCR Health Services staff at least twice every week.
Still, despite the circumstances, many freshmen reported having an easy time. One such student, Corbin Zabinski, a first-year mechanical engineering major dorming in Dundee, affirmed that he was content with the organization and general way that staff conducted the entire affair. “I felt safe as no one was ever near me,” he stated.
Another student, Katie Lee, a first-year media and cultural studies major dorming in East Lothian, shared a similar sentiment. She claimed that their move-in day operated smoothly, especially since the working staff had been extremely careful, and there were far less people present than what might have been normal. Lee remains confident that in spite of the virus, there should be no major issues with on campus living. “As long as everyone keeps taking precautions and cooperates with each other, I think we can continue to keep a safe environment for all students and staff,” she stated.
To continue ensuring maximum safety, Brumbaugh affirmed that hand sanitizing stations were also strategically positioned at every building and hall’s main entrances and exits, laundry rooms, music rooms and elevators. In addition, “high touch” communal areas of all the residence halls are cleaned at least twice daily and seven days a week with special disinfectants and electrostatic cleansers.
According to Brumbhaugh, Housing Services faced a slew of challenges in trying to set up a seamless and safe method of allowing freshmen to experience traditional dormitory life. The local and national Health Departments guidelines continue to change over time, making any planning difficult, but that was only the tip of the iceberg, according to Brumbaugh. Housing Services also dealt with a sharp increase in phone and email traffic due to COVID-related concerns. “Students wanted a true college experience, but were uncertain what decision to make regarding housing and were still making these decisions during the week prior to move-in,” Brumbaugh explained.
He added that thousands of students deferred their campus housing to winter this year, in the hopes that the pandemic will have calmed somewhat. For Housing Services, the fluctuating numbers meant continual reassignment of residents to different rooms and buildings as they had to work for consolidation, closing underused buildings whenever possible to maintain safety and lower building overhead costs.
Now that move-in weekend is over, Housing Services staff is looking to the future. One of their main priorities involves continuously encouraging responsible living so that there are no viral outbreaks that might prompt housing closures. In the event of an upsurge, Housing Services partnered with Environmental Health & Safety, Facilities Services, Residential Life, Student Health Services and Office of Emergency Management departments to develop thorough “Standard Operating Procedures” in order to help students who have become ill or been exposed. Should it become necessary, there are numerous furnished rooms and apartments that may serve as quarantine areas.
Otherwise, Brumbaugh added that housing is determined to provide a meaningful experience for all the students living within the residence halls. While the circumstances might be quite different, he affirmed that they are working diligently to create fun and engaging programs that emulate the traditional college atmosphere. He concluded, “The Housing, Dining, and Residential Life teams believe that, together with our other campus partners, we can promote a safe environment in campus housing, allowing students to taste some semblance of the college experience they are craving, and be a model of success for other institutions.”