With more than 50,000 students enrolled, thousands will make their way to Gainesville next month for the start of the Fall semester at UF.
But COVID-19 may spread while parents and siblings carry cardboard moving boxes and students greet their new roommates. Dr. Norman Beatty, who works in the division of infectious diseases and global medicine at UF Health Shands Hospital, said there are ways to mitigate these risks.
The first thing students can do is coordinate move-in times with their roommates so only one student is moving in at a time, Beatty said. This will help prevent the spread of the virus between families. If coordinating isn’t possible, Beatty said social distancing should be maintained throughout the move-in process. When moving down hallways or through doors, everyone should maintain a distance of six feet apart, and limit traveling on staircases and elevators to one person at a time.
“I think the most important thing is that everyone moving in is wearing a face covering and maintaining social distancing as well as keeping their hands sanitized throughout the process,” he said.
Beatty recommends bringing hand sanitizers to clean hands throughout the process, and to have cleaning supplies handy to wipe down doorknobs and other high-touch surfaces periodically.
As for furniture, Beatty said there’s potential for transmission through inanimate objects. He recommends using Lysol or another sanitizing spray to decontaminate dressers, rugs and other furniture.
Aida Garcia, an 18-year-old UF business management freshman who is moving into Beaty Towers next month, said she feels confident in the measures UF housing has put in place for on-campus move-in day.
These include limiting residents to two guests during move-in day and requiring everyone to wear face coverings. Students will follow a designated route through the building. UF will also prohibit guests who exhibit symptoms of the virus from entering the building.
Garcia and her parents will be wearing masks while they move her things inside, and her siblings will help unload the car without entering the building, she said. But Garcia said she is worried about getting everything to her new dorm on the 13th floor because there won’t be any GatorAide move-in volunteers to help.
“I think us not being able to have that will make it a little trickier, but other than that, I’m not really worried about moving in,” Garcia said.
When stopping for gas and supplies on the way to Gainesville, Beatty said to be mindful of social distancing and face coverings. If there is a long line inside a gas station, he recommends waiting for the line to dwindle down before going inside.
“We also want to avoid any gathering of people in closed spaces,” he said.
These have been interesting times for everyone, Beatty said. One way to break the ice with new roommates will be to relate to each other’s experiences during the pandemic. Ask your new roommates about the stresses they’ve dealt with and how they’ve coped and handled those challenges, he added.
“Getting to know your roommates from that standpoint will be important, because we’ve all had different experiences with this virus so far,” he said.
Along with taking precautions like wearing a mask in public and social distancing, Beatty said students should make sure they’re taking care of their bodies and minds. He recommends getting outdoors, doing exercise, practicing meditation and participating in other self-care activities. Those who are having an especially difficult time should speak with a mental health professional, he said.
The doctor also warns against large gatherings when students return. To avoid the transmission cycle we’ve been seeing, he said to avoid them.
“College is a time for young people to experience their youth, and this usually involves coming together and gathering in crowds or in certain situations where they’ll be in close quarters,” he said. “That’s going to be a temptation for students that they’re gonna want to avoid, remembering that those are the moments at highest risk for transmission.”
Hannah Schoenfeld, a 21-year-old UF communication sciences and disorders senior, said she’s nervous about moving back to Gainesville. Traveling from West Palm Beach, Florida, and moving back to the same apartment she lived in last year, Schoenfeld said she doesn’t have to worry very much about having to stop for gas or moving any furniture, but she doesn’t know how cautious her roommates have been while she’s been gone all Summer. She said she hasn’t spoken to them about it very much, so she doesn’t know how much they care.
“I think it’s definitely a conversation that needs to be had, but I also feel like none of us should be living uncomfortable,” she said. “If I’m more cautious out of all of them, then I’m gonna have to be the one that separates myself from everybody else.”
She said she has concerns if one of her roommates decides to go to a party. If that happens, she said she might speak up about being uncomfortable with that situation and then try to distance herself for the next few weeks.
“I think other than getting COVID, a lot of my worries are being able to stay focused and do my schoolwork, how I need to do it, when I need to do it, and just being successful,” Schoenfeld said. “This is my senior year, and it’s really important.”