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COVID-19 restrictions hit colleges hard

College foodservice teams across the country are dealing with canceled classes, student evacuations and limited campus operations.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Colleges across the country have taken drastic steps to stem the spread of the coronavirus. More than 200 colleges have canceled or postponed in-person classes, moving instruction online either temporarily or through the end of the semester. In many cases, students have been advised not to return to campus until after spring break, and instead finish coursework online until further notice.

At a number of universities, including Harvard and Cornell, students have been told to move out of the dorms and evacuate campus.

The abruptness of these announcements has been especially tough for international students and those lacking financial resources. Students who do remain on campus will still have access to dining options and other services, though they will be limited. Even at schools where dorms are still open, dining halls and other operations are adapting foodservice to the new realities of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Most were following the lead of University of Washington in Seattle before it, too, instructed students to return home and finish courses remotely. Denzil Suite, vice president of student life, said in a statement that open bar areas in dining halls, such as salad bars, were transitioned to a grab-and-go model, and cleaning and sanitizing in student residences was doubled.

At Ohio State University, spring break has been extended by one week, a time during which the university will help students move out of their dorms. In-person classes at the Columbus, Ohio, university have been suspended through the end of the semester. We are making alternative arrangements for students with significant housing and/or dining concerns on a case-by-case basis,” said Zia Ahmed, senior director of dining services, noting that the university community is “primarily focusing on serving people in need while keeping everyone safe.”

Smith College in Northampton, Mass., sent out this announcement: "Room and board will be provided only to students who have no option but to remain on campus, including those from countries with travel restrictions, those whose legal residence is Smith College and those with other extenuating circumstances.”

Many schools have been working on a Plan B for several weeks, ever since the first case of coronavirus was reported in the U.S.

At Michigan State University in East Lansing, face-to-face classes were suspended Wednesday. Students were encouraged to return to their permanent places of residence to conduct coursework remotely until the end of the semester on April 20, citing the advantages of social distancing. The school’s website notes that “MSU has been preparing for pivoting the campus to online learning should that decision be required … but for those not able to go home, we will continue to fully support students in our residence halls and dining facilities.”

While most universities have posted the CDC’s guidelines for COVID-19, many are still working on crafting more detailed communications to students, employees and parents in light of the closures this week. The sudden and widespread announcements mean that all statements have to be quickly and constantly updated, college foodservice teams have told FSD.

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