When COVID-19 first began to garner national attention, few individuals could possibly have predicted the full scope of its impact on the lives of people living in the United States. Recently, the University of Montevallo released the Falcon Forward plan that explains how it plans to safely proceed with the fall semester.
The plan is broken up into four categories: social distancing, engineering solutions, administrative solutions and personal solutions.
Social distancing in the plan pertains to lowering the class and event sizes. One of the most obvious ways these new restrictions will affect students can be seen in the new rules for student organizations.
Student organizations will need to submit plans for any events two weeks in advance to the event occurring, which is one more week than what was required in the past. The biggest difference is that student organizations will now have to include a plan for how they will social distance and what safety precautions they will be taking for each in person event. Recurring events will not require organizations to fill out an event form more than once, so they will only have to submit one plan for regular meetings.
In addition to student organizations events, Jenny Bell, the director of student life, said that UPC events, such as Wow Weekends and events like the campus escape room, would now all be virtually to help keep students safe.
“I did some virtual event showcases with some companies the last couple of weeks, and they have everything from escape rooms to hypnotist,” said Bell. “Everything you can imagine that we’ve done on campus, they’re adapting it.”
Bell also mentioned the possibility of having do-it-yourself kits for students to pick up, like spa kits that students could use in their dorm rooms.
Regarding the budget, Bell said that she imagined there was a chance SGA would get a budget cut, but she hoped that it wouldn’t have a large effect on student organizations since the virtual UPC events would be less expensive.
Another important aspect of campus life is Greek life.
“We feel like that [Greek life] is a very important way that a lot of students make connections when they first get here, so we want to make sure that still happens,” said Bell.
Bell explained that the new Assistant Director of Student Life, Samantha Bradley, was responsible for handling the Greek organizations, and had met with chapter heads over 42 times via Zoom to discuss how things would work going forward.
Much of the planning for Greek in the fall is still in the air, but Bell did say Greek organizations would still be doing recruitment and would also be held to the same gathering limitations of any other student organization.
There will also be limits on visitation. Visitors to campus will be restricted, and though it is not yet evident all the ways this will come in to play, it has been made clear in new guidelines for student organizations that event attendees must now be students, faculty or staff.
The new restrictions will also play a part in Carmichael library, but will not stop it from opening. As part of its new policy, the library will quarantine all books for three days after their return before putting them back on shelves. They will also do curbside pickup and have heightened cleaning procedures inside.
The University has planned several engineering solutions to help keep the UM community safe. As part of this, the university will install physical barriers in certain areas. The plan also calls for pathways to be redesigned to direct traffic going one direction, and more limited access for buildings.
On an administrative level, the methods that UM is currently working to apply include assessing space requirements, tracking students, faculty and staff members’ health, increasing cleaning protocols, replacing in-person meetings with virtual ones, restricting non-essential travel and COVID-19 testing.
According to Dr. Tammi Dahle, the vice president for enrollment and student affairs, the administration has now reviewed every academic space on campus for distance learning. As a result, they have closed off several of these spaces because they deemed them impractical for a safe learning environment in these present circumstances.
The University announced that all students will be required to be tested for COVID-19 and have a negative result before being allowed back on campus. This testing is being provided to students through the GuideSafe program for Alabama. Students are asked to maintain a 14-day quarantine before returning to campus. If a student is taking all of their courses online and not utilizing any on campus facilities, such as dining and housing, may choose not to be tested.
An Aug. 6 update from marketing and communications stated that the university had “developed a basic safety and awareness course in Canvas for students to complete before returning to campus.”
The deadline for students to complete this course is Sunday, Aug. 23.
Student health services and HR respectively will be monitoring students, faculty and staff for symptoms, this will largely function by self-reporting, but UM President, Dr. John W. Stewart III said that there also will be some form of sentinel program on campus to test employees and students at random.
Students will be asked to regularly visit Falcon Healthcheck website, a COVID-19 tool part of the Falcon Healthcheck platform provided by UAB. Through Falcon Healthcheck, students will be able to log any potential symptoms or contact with COVID-19.
Should a student test positive for COVID-19 then they will still be able to continue learning remotely, but most students will be required to move off campus for the duration of their illness. Students who do not live within driving distance or have nowhere to go will be allowed to stay in isolation rooms in Ramsay. There will be a total of 14 rooms in Ramsay on both the second and third floor dedicated to this purpose.
Dahle acknowledged that this would put students in the hard position of possibly taking COVID-19 back to their families, but said that it was up to each family to “work together with our students to determine what level of risk they can take.”
“Our main concern is keeping the campus safe,” said Dahle.
While students are not confined to their dorms, Stewart did say the University would be doing its best to encourage students to limit their travel off campus.
Along with new housing rules, which will only allow students to have visitors in their dorm room if they live in the same residence hall, there will be new rules regarding dining.
The staff at the caf and other Falcon Foods locations will be required to wear masks and will be separated from diners by a clear barrier. To help control the flow of traffic, there will be a new one direction pathway laid out to keep students flowing the same direction. There will also be less customization than previously to help keep the flow of traffic going, and with the exception of the cereal bar, which will be cleaned frequently, all self-serve options will be replaced with prepackaged options. The ice cream station will be shut down for the foreseeable future.
When students walk in, they will be given their cup and cutlery at the register. As of now, all plates, cups and cutlery will be disposable for the fall semester.
The caf’s seating will be adjusted to space out the tables, and only four people will be able to sit at each table. The tables will extend into the banquet hall, and be able to seat a total of 289 people. In the past, the caf seated 350.
According to Jason Quarles, director of dining services, this shouldn’t be a problem during most times, but he does think it could be a problem during the regular lunchtime rush.
“If a student’s schedule permits, consider eating lunch in the 10:45 AM-12:00 PM or the 12:45 PM-2:00 PM timeframe and avoid the 12-12:45 PM window if you prefer to dine in,” said Quarles. “Lunch is our busiest meal period because of commuters on campus, faculty and staff so that’s the only time when I think the reduced seating will create an issue. If we can get any students whose class schedule allows lunch in those non-peak times to change their dining time habits, it will be a smoother service for all.”
To help ease the burden inside, dining services is working with the Physical Plant to install tables on the Tutwiler quad, and will be encouraging take-out.
The caf will continue to wipe down tables every 30 minutes, and will do an additional hard cleaning between each major mealtime. There will also be new hand sanitizing stations added throughout the dining hall.
“In the times between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and dinner, we’re going to be doing a hard cleaning with this product called Virex, which is supposed to wipe out viruses on any contact services,” said Quarles.
As workers in the caf will be seeing more members of the UM community than anyone else, their health is a big concern both for themselves and for everyone eating in the caf.
“Every day when an employee comes to work, there will be a manager at the backdoor,” said Quarles. “We’re doing a forehead temperature scan. They have to have no fever before they can clock in. They will also be asked a series of health questions: have you had a fever, felt bad in the last couple of days…if you catch it right there, they’re not even in the building.”
If an employee is sick, they will receive paid sick leave.
Many of these solutions going forward depend upon the final aspect of the Falcon Forward plan, personal solutions. Things like wearing a mask both on and off campus, practicing good hygiene, staying home when sick and holding each other accountable.
“We need to help from other students to encourage our students to be responsible,” said Stewart. “Students will listen to other students before they listen to us.”
Many of the personal solutions fall into a category of things that UM cannot regulate. Mask wearing on campus is not one of those things.
When students return in the fall, they will be required to wear a mask at all times when indoors in common spaces, and at any point outside where they are unable to maintain six feet of distance between them and another person. They will not be required to wear them while eating, drinking, exercising, performing physical labor, inside their dorm rooms or outdoors with more than six feet separation between themselves and others.
“We expect all students to adhere to the guidelines,” said Stewart. Any students who refuse to follow guidelines will be disciplined through the student conduct process.
A mask will be provided for every faculty, staff and student. Residential students will be given their mask when they check in to housing, and commuters will be able to pick up mask at health services or student life.
The SGA will be hosting a town hall via zoom on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 5 p.m. for members of the UM administration to answer students’ questions on the fall semester. SGA President, Thomas Dillard, sent an email to all students with a link to sign up for the zoom meeting.
*This is an ongoing story and will be updated as new information becomes available.
Updated on Aug. 6 at 5:28 p.m. to add new information on testing protocols, the Falcon Healthcheck platform, mask and other small details. Updated Aug. 6 at 5:38 p.m. to add information on the SGA town hall.