Part 2 Of A Series
The tradition of having University of South Dakota students move into their student housing will be changing this August because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to USD officials who met with members of the Vermillion City Council via a video conference at its noon meeting June 15.
“We’re going to have a lot of changes in student activities starting right from the beginning. Move-in Day used to be a one-day process and students would meet their families in their cars and bring all of their things up and into their dorm rooms, which was a fabulous experience for the students,” said Kim Grieve, vice president of student services and dean of students at USD. “We’re not going to be able to quite do that. We’re going to have move-in over three days.
“Families will still go through the Dome (parking lot) and we’ve set up a contact list process and then they’ll go over to their residence hall, where a staff or faculty will meet them, allow them to park their cars, get their belongings out of their cars and take them upstairs,” she said. “We’re doing it over three days so we make sure that over at the halls there are no more than four people moving in at the same time.”
Following the move-in process, students will meet for their convocation.
“Convocation is our welcoming event; we’ll be having that in the SCSC (Sanford Coyote Sports Center) and we’ll be able to social distance there,” Grieve said. “We all will be wearing masks right from the beginning so as soon as students see us at move-in day, at convocation and every place else, we will be making sure that they understand the importance of wearing masks and the importance of social distancing.
Some of the usual student orientation activities that involve transportation of students will not be held.
“We just cannot find a way to transport students in a way where we could do social distancing in large groups,” she said. “We have planned lots of events; we’ll continue some of our events online as well. We know how important it is for students to become engaged on campus and really feel a part of our community, so we want to make sure that we continue with a robust schedule.”
Floor For Quarantine
Grieve said a floor in each residence hall will be a living space for students who become ill with coronavirus or test positive and must be quarantined.
“If students are tested positive, there’s a place for them to be. The housing staff will check on them twice a day. A Sanford (Health Services) nurse also will contact them once a day as well as the state department (of health),” she said. “The state department really is the entity that lets them know when they are able to leave quarantine. We have that space outlined; we have already been using that space for some of our students because we’ve had students who tested positive.
“The process has worked really, really well and we’ve even had parents contact us and tell us that they feel that their students are safe with us,” Grieve said. “I feel confident that if we do have students that become ill, we do have a really, really good process all set out.”
She said the Wellness Center on the USD campus will be open.
“They’ll take some time to do some really intense training and then they’ll have two weeks with a slow rollout where just students who are currently in the community as well as faculty, staff and community members will be able to come to the Wellness Center and then they will open up to all of our students once they arrive,” Grieve said. “We’re going to do it in a much different way, though. We’ve purchased some software and we will keep CDC guidelines.”
If the CDC guidelines at that time state that such a facility should only be at 33 percent of total occupancy, “we will make sure that only 33 percent of the capacity of the Wellness Center is met,” she said. “We’ll also have where you can make reservations for particular classes so we know we won’t go over the number of students who can participate.”
The Muenster University Center will be open and serving meals to students when classes begin.
“For breakfast, it’s quite easy to do social distancing; we don’t have a big rush and the same for dinner, but lunchtime is when we do have more of a rush,” Grieve said. “We have put into place decals on the floor that map out six feet distance in between people; all of the utensils will be disposable; there will be no self-serving available.”
Food choices will remain as plentiful as last year, but will be served differently.
“We will be encouraging students to grab-and-go,” she said. “We’re working with our Grubhub software to make sure that it will be able to let students know when their order is ready so there won’t lines of students.”
Student counseling services will also continue with additional options.
“Students can choose to have tele-health counseling or they can choose to have face-to-face counseling,” Grieve said. “Our Center for Diversity and Community will be open and some of their large events will take place in different spaces because they have so many events and they’re so well attended but we just couldn’t have that many people in the CDC at a time.”
There Will Be Football
USD Athletic Director David Herbster also participated in the teleconference.
“I think the most-asked question I get is ‘Will we have a football season?’ and yes, we will have a football season,” he told members of the Vermillion City Council. “What it looks like – I’m not really sure, yet. We had a very small group of athletes back in town last week as we opened up the weight room and some conditioning opportunities for them.
“We looked at streamlining and modifying some of safety and cleaning protocols this week. We started probably about 50 football players and combined, between both basketball teams we have maybe about 20, so we have 70 student athletes in town using the weight room and some other facilities.”
USD Athletic Department personnel are making sure the athletes stay in groups of 10 or less throughout the day.
“That will stay fairly consistent until we get to July , where we open it up to some of our fall sports athletes where I really, at this point, expect another 20 to 30 to be on campus,” he said. “That really allows us to not only streamline and understand our processes throughout the facility, but how best to navigate the student athletes through the weight rooms, through the course, through the turf and different aspects of that.”
USD is planning to launch all of its usual sports -- soccer, volleyball and football – this fall.
“But what I don’t have right now is what our fan capacities will look like at that point. We’re working with both the NCAA and the Missouri Valley Football Conference as well as the Summit League to come up with some general best practices,” Herbster said. “There are some places in the country where they’re going to go full capacity; some have talked about 50 percent capacity; some have talked about one-third capacity.
“We’re really at that point of trying to target the middle of July to see where we’re at, not only nationally but certainly in the state and then work with campus and our other partners to determine what our capacities are going to be,” he said.
A $24.2 million project renovation project that has taken over the entire west side of the DakotaDome also will be complete this fall. Work began in February, 2019, and the construction has added new permanent seating on the west side of the building along with suites and loge boxes, a separate floor to house football coaches offices and meeting rooms for the team and a bottom level that will house the football locker room, meeting spaces, lounge areas and office space.
“The Dome will be coming fully online. The renovations have stayed on target, so that puts the true capacity of the Dome at over 9,000 seats,” Herbster said. “We will base our capacity limitations on the overall capacity of each one of our venues and then determine how best to keep social distancing, encouraging everyone to wear masks when in the facilities and take some precautionary measures whether it be lines for the restrooms or concessions stands – things like that.
“We still have a great deal of work to do but there’s a great deal of promise that we will have things as normal as possible from a competitive standpoint and from a fan standpoint,” he said.