Covid’s Impact on Public Health Safety Procedures in Auburn
Cater lawn is empty, but its trash cans are overflowing with white Styrofoam to-go boxes. It’s noon, prime lunchtime hour, and Shay Cassady closes her laptop, exits out of the Zoom link she uses to meet with her group partners, and opens the Grub Hub app.
Scrolling through the limited options, she choices Chicken Salad Chick, sets a time to pick it up, and begins her five-minute drive to campus. It’s the first time she’s left her apartment today, and she drives with the windows down, longing for the times she used to spend walking to class.
After pulling up to the parking lot behind Lowder, she puts on her emergency blinkers, pulls up her mask, and makes the mad dash to collect her food before parking services notices her car idling in a loading zone.
She passes other students with the same intent. All of them dressed as she is, car keys clutched in their right hands, a to-go box balances in the other. No one wears a backpack.
Once at Chicken Salad Chick, she enters through the side door, where her food waits on a side table. She has yet to speak a single word, yet her campus adventure is almost over.
Making it back to her car, she takes off her emergency lights, pulls out of campus, and notes the lack of people in the green space of Auburn’s lawns despite the good weather. There is a stillness in the air, one reinforced by a noticeable lack of students on Auburn’s extensive campus.
The total time she spent on campus – a little under five minutes. She’s a full-time student yet hasn’t spent more than a total of 2 hours on campus since the spring semester started. Cassady is part of hundreds of students impacted by Aubuns public health procedures post-Covid.
Cassidy’s new lunch schedule is only one way Auburn’s campus has adapted its health and safety procedures. However, these procedures have begun to adapt as more vaccines enter the world. As of Fall 2021, the Auburn campus has decided to go back to 100 percent in-person classes, resuming their normal operation and student life experience. This changes Athletics, Housing, Health, and Dining procedures – ones that students like Cassady have just gotten used to. However, Covid’s departure from the campus was not seamless, leaving behind procedures and lessons that the University will hold on to for the near future.
Student Housing Director Dr, Kevin Hoult, calls students housing the outside experience of being a student. Due to campus housing being primarily freshman students, it is one of the initial ways new students can grow their social lives outside of the classroom.
When Covid first knocked on Auburn’s doors, student housing reacted by limiting the number of housing options and closing off multiple lobbies. Furniture was re-arranged so students could not sit any closer than six feet away from each other, and guests that were not already residing in student housing were not permitted to enter the housing lobby.
As the year progressed and the CDC became laxer with group gatherings, more students could gather in the hallways. Now, going into the summer semester of 2021, Student housing allows up to 100 students to gather in the building.
Larger group gatherings will allow old social operations to reassume; this includes a green light for RA’s to provide movie nights and having cookouts in the lobby for students to socialize.
Dr. Hoult explained that while Covid impacted student housing’s way of life, their operations were seamless enough that “they didn’t lose a step in how [they] manage and serviced students.” The most significant change in housing was the increase in cleaning services and the addition of isolation housing.
Meaning, as Covid’s presence on campus begins to diminish, health safety procedures again will not be severely impacted.
As of Fall 2021, All guests will be allowed in student housing. New safety procedures also include keeping a few housing options open for isolation. However, housing learned that students could quarantine in place, and in the future – if needed- students will stay in their dorms to quarantine.
The most significant way Covid impacted student housing health procedures is how students move in and out of housing. Dr. Hoult realized that “move-in day is not conducive” due to the extensive amount of people trying to move in the dorms at the same time. To keep safety distances and make move-in less stressful, Auburn in the future will extend move-in dates and spread them through a 12-to-15-day period.
Due to new health safety procedures in Auburn during the Pandemic, Auburn Dining made multiple changes to its operations. Most dining serves operated stickily through the Grub-Hub app, where students could order food, pay for it online and pick it up in a food locker without ever contacting other workers or students.
However, the Director of Auburn Dining, Glenn Loughridge, says while this procedure was successful during the height of Covid, it’s not a conducive long-term goal for Auburn. Loughridge states that “we want students to be on campus spending time in the dining halls and hope that by next semester we can resume back to a normal level of operation and experience that again.” The number of students who eat on campus is directly linked to student satisfaction rates, increasing enrollment and graduation rates.
While the Grub Hub app and to-go ordering helped dining resume operations, the dining services goal is for this health safety procedure to eventually be not needed.
However, as Auburn resumes normal operations, some Health Safety Procedures that Covid has creating in Auburn dining are here to stay. For example, the number of people on staff to clean dining halls has increased for the foreseeable future. “The cleaner the space is, the happier students feel and more likely they are to stay on campus,” says Loughridge.
The To-go App also provides an at-home meal service that will not be taken away after Covid. The Home Chef Vouchers were initially created for students who had hundreds of dollars worth of dining money but couldn’t make it to campus to spend their money. However, in the future, Home Chef Vouchers will be used for students who don’t feel comfortable in public yet, either due to mental health or Covid related causes.
Another change is plastic-wrapped silver wear. Currently, Auburn stopped providing single-use spoon, fork, and knife suspensers, due to health safety, instead of proving these products wrapped in plastic to avoid contamination. Loughridge admits that this safety procedure cannot continue long term because it is expensive and not good for the environment. However, Auburn is teaming up with the Sustainability team to find a suitable solution for health safety that is not costly and harmful to the environment.
Health and Wellness Procedures
Auburn’s Health Safety procedures extend further than athletics, housing, and dining. Auburn adapted their health safety procedures within their health services.
Eric Smith, the director of Auburn Health Promotions and Wellness, explains that when Covid first started to impact Auburn, the Promotion and Wellness services all went digital. All services including, Alcohol and Drug, Nutritional, Safe Harbor, a Sound Mind, and Wellness Coaching, went to Zoom. This means the student students who need these services can still; receive them even when Auburn was not allowing students on campus.
Smith explains that going digital was such a success that multiple programs will continue to offer their services online, even after the school goes 100 percent back in person.
Regarding the Alcohol and Drug Program, students could go to a rehab program but continue their education through zoom while keeping up with Auburn through the wellness center.
Another success that the center had was extending its services to find help for students outside the Auburn or Alabama Area. Smith explained that due to Covid, the University sent lots of students back to their hometowns, causing lots of resources to be instantly lost for people in need. To make up for this, The Wellness center began to help students find rehabs and help in the areas closest to them. The center will continue to do this after Covid.
Covid also impacted physical health procedures. The Auburn Medical Center will continue to enforce the use of Masks and six feet physical distancing for the foreseeable future. They will also continue to check for covid and perform tests next semester.
Dr. Fred Kam, the Director, Auburn University Medical Clinic, claims that he expects masks to continue to be a health safety procedure in the next year, despite the number of people vaccinated. Auburn continues offering all three vaccination options and will continue to do so next semester if the student fills out a demand sheet to be vaccinated.
Public health procedures in the Auburn Medical offices and buildings will continue as they were in the past few months.
Auburn’s goal is to reassume a normal level of operation. Higher success rates correlate to students spending more time on campus and being able to talk to each other face to face. However, as Dr. Fred Kam, explained “Covid will still exist in the next year,” meaning public health safety procedures will continue to be cautious.
Auburn’s, goal is for students to resume their spots on Cater’s lawn and spend more than five minutes on campus. But it will be a gradual change, one seen through larger gatherings, more in-person events, and less food delivery. Public Health Safety Procures are not strict as they were in 2020, but they have a long way to go before the Pre-Covid level of operations resume.