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University of Iowa Housing and Dining prepares for thousands of students, more normal year
Pandemic concerns carry into the fall semester, but ‘the normal August buzz is certainly around’
IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa will welcome back thousands of students to its residence halls and dining facilities in a couple weeks.
Yes, there is concern about what the delta variant of COVID-19 might mean to student life this fall, but, at this writing, the mask requirement and guest restrictions that marked last year’s pandemic will be dropped.
That said, some precautions will remain in place when students move in the week of Aug. 15, according to Virginia Ibrahim-Olin, the UI director of Housing Administration, who spoke with The Gazette on Aug. 2.
Q: How is Housing and Dining preparing to welcome back students to the dorms for the fall semester?
A: August is always a busy period. University Housing and Dining staff are so excited to welcome our students back this fall.
And some of the things we are doing are actually quite normal. We're finishing construction projects, we're putting on the final cleaning touches, and there is boatloads of training going on, as all of our student leaders move back in early.
Of course, we have our additional preparations in regard to COVID-19 — finalizing those protocols, putting extra little cleaning tips in place. But the normal August buzz is certainly around all of us right now.
Q: What will the residence hall living experience be like? And how will it be different from last year — and perhaps similar — to last year?
A: This year's incoming class has a completely different take on life than any of us ever have when we stepped foot into the residence halls.
They will have some of the normal transitionary experiences as far as independent living, but they also have the lens of working through their senior year with COVID-19. And that's just so different than any of us working in Housing and Dining would have ever experienced ourselves.
We are aiming to do a “both and.” Our goal is to offer as many in-person components as possible, and at the same time, we know that there are still going to be some students who really would like us to offer opportunities to connect virtually.
We will be looking forward to that return to some larger-scale events of opportunities for people to connect with fellow Hawkeyes, like residence hall welcome meetings or some of our On Iowa! events.
However, we also will offer the opportunity to connect one-on-one and in community online.
Q: Will any of the and COVID-19 prevention protocols from last year remain in place?
A: Yes, we do have a number of protocols that will remain in place. There is a number of deep cleaning techniques that our custodial and our maintenance team have adopted that we do always.
There are some policies that have changed — like we are not requiring masks, we are not placing any guest restrictions on students.
At the same time, within our dining unit, for example, we are still offering students the opportunity to take a meal to go.
Students can take a reusable clamshell, fill it up with food and take it on home with them because our to-go meal operation worked very well for students last year.
So folks will have the option to either eat in the residence hall marketplaces or to take their food with them if they want to.
Q: Will there still be quarantine and isolation rooms for students who test positive or have been exposed to COVID-19?
A: Yes, we will maintain quarantine and isolation rooms for students. We will ask students to report their status online, similar to how we did last year. And that will then notify University Housing and Dining staff.
If a student self reports, a member of our team will follow up with them, asking them a variety of questions about their particular status and if they want alternate housing, the time frame for relocation, and we'll work to get them situated.
Q: Are there any plans for asking students in the residence halls to self-report their vaccination status? How will you be encouraging vaccination for students that live in the residence halls?
A: We are not requiring our students to receive the vaccine in order to live within University Housing and Dining, but we absolutely strongly encourage students, faculty, staff to receive it as quickly as they're able, in consultation with their health care provider.
And there are a number of ways that students, if they are living with us this fall, can get it as soon as they step on campus. They could come right now and say, “I'm registered for fall classes, where can I get my vaccine?” Our partners at student health will help get them that if they are interested.
Q: What will the dining hall setup look like in the fall?
A: So last year, in the midst of COVID, our dining team served all of the students from the buffet line just in order to eliminate that potential for cross contamination.
For this academic year, when someone comes into one of the marketplaces, they could choose to grab a plate and sit down and eat right there, or they could take their food home with them.
The other thing that will happen is that students will be able to serve themselves, although we will always have some stations where our team serves you, depending on what you're ordering.
So those are the two big things. You'll see that a lot of the plexiglas that we had up last year is now down. So things are a little bit more open.
Q: Is there any possibility of changing some of these procedures if the situation with COVID-19 in Johnson County or in surrounding areas gets significantly worse?
A: Our Housing and Dining team, along with the Division of Student Life and many of our partners across campus, are really paying attention to how the pandemic evolves.
And so we will continue to assess our operations every day and look and see, is there a change that needs to be made, either based on COVID or based on our student needs as those evolve throughout the year. We will look to be as responsive as possible.
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