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UNH hosts student-led virtual town hall


During the University of New Hampshire (UNH) student-led virtual town hall on Tuesday evening, staff from the university stressed the importance of students wearing masks and practicing social distancing to ensure a safe semester. Representatives from the Student Senate discussed the upcoming opening of the UNH campus, and members of UNH staff answered questions regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19).  

Student Body President Nicholas Fitzgerald, Student Body Vice President Tyler Silverwood and Student Senate Speaker Igor Campos Garcia started the town hall by asking the UNH staff about further details in regards to COVID-19 testing of UNH students, what UNH expects of students in the upcoming semester and how the university plans to keep its students and staff safe.  

Peter Degnan, the medical director of Health and Wellness, said that the first step is asking all students eight days prior to their arrival on campus to be tested. Once students have a negative test, they can then be on the UNH campus. He said off-campus students will be given self-testing kits so that they can test themselves twice a week and will be tested on days that correspond to their major and college. On-campus students will be tested based off of their residence halls and their resident assistants (RAs) will be able to help them determine when to be tested.  

In the case that a student tests positive for COVID-19 before arriving on campus, Degnan said that their respective state health department will ask them to isolate for 10 days. Once the student tests negative for COVID-19 and are cleared, they can then return to campus. If a student tests positive during the semester, all of their close contacts will be informed that they have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Close contacts are defined as roommates and other people who have been within six feet for a time period of 10 minutes or longer. The student will then be assigned a case manager from the state of New Hampshire to check in on them, and they will have the option to live in one of the designated dorms on campus to quarantine or go home to quarantine until they are cleared to return.   

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Wayne Jones said that New Hampshire has kept numbers low so far during the pandemic with 316 active cases and 8 active cases in Durham, and he hopes they will be able to keep positive cases down. He also said there will be new tags about classes on MyCourses/Canvas that will show students whether their class is online, in-person, or a hybrid class.  

When asked about how bathroom usage will work in the buildings on-campus and in the residential buildings, the Director of Residential Life Ruth Abelmann said that although students can’t wear masks when they shower or brush their teeth, they will be required to wear masks in hallways and common spaces. According to Abelmann, there will be set capacities enforced by RAs for the bathrooms to allow for social distancing. In a student’s own dorm room they will not be required to wear masks. She said that they are also putting an emphasis on cleaning the bathrooms more often than usual and they will also shut down the bathrooms and clean them if a student in the dorm tests positive for COVID-19. She also said that even in the case that UNH closes, a COVID-19 positive student would not have to go home until they are cleared.  

Dimond Library will be open, Jones said, but there will be social distancing procedures in place such as spacing computers farther apart and they will be expecting users to help clean and wipe down the computers and workstations before and after they use them. Zeke’s Cafe will not be open in the library for the upcoming semester, according to Jones.  

Senior Vice Provost for Student Life Kenneth Holmes said he hopes everyone coming to campus knows that they must wear masks and said students who refuse to wear masks or repeatedly forget to wear masks will be held accountable.  

“It’s about safety first,” Holmes said. He said there will also be a system in place for people to report others for not complying with wearing a mask or social distancing. Additionally, it is now required to wear a mask in public in the town of Durham, and those that fail to do so will be fined. Community members of Durham and UNH will also be able to use a link to report others for not wearing masks in public.  

Director of Community Standards Matthew Keegan said that the police will not be called on a student not wearing a mask. Their first step will be to ask the student to comply. There will be a three strike policy, according to Keegan, where the first strike will have a student meeting with their respective college dean, then being put on probation if a second meeting occurs. If there is a third offense, they will no longer be allowed to take in-person classes and could be evicted from housing if they live on-campus.  

“Everyone’s a part of this, just wear a mask,” Keegan said.  

Abelmann said that wearing a mask “is just what we need to do.” She said that quarantine dorms, such as Babcock Hall or Adams Tower, will be very isolated, which is why they provide students the option of quarantining at home.  

Keegan said that the link for reporting people not wearing masks can also be used to report people for having larger gatherings without social distancing. If the state of the pandemic improves, between 15 and 25 people can gather. As far as parties off-campus, they are unaware of what the Durham police will do to respond to large gatherings of people.  

Abelmann said they will be encouraging people to spend time outside where they can let people be together and have fun in a safe environment.  

“Wearing a mask is something we all should do,” Jones said, “when in doubt have your mask on and minimize your risk.” 

Jones said there is a system in place where the campus will be classified at green, yellow, orange, or red, with green meaning normal operations and red meaning a complete shutdown. Yellow would be having face-to-face classes with restricted operations, and orange would be remote learning but still with on-campus living. Pertaining to a question about what happens if all of the quarantine dorms are filled, Jones said if that happens, the campus will have likely already gone from orange to red, and in that case the university would most likely have already been shut down. He also said that they will be monitoring the number of cases and capacities of quarantine housing to ensure that they will not get to that point.   

Degnan said that students’ test results for COVID-19 will always be confidential but they will update everyone on the number of cases on campus. This confidentiality is in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), meaning a patient’s medical records are confidential. If a student tests positive for COVID-19, their professors will be informed that they are not able to attend classes and then it is up to the student whether they want to tell their professor about their diagnosis or not.  

Executive Director of Student Engagement and Development Stacey Hall said that the dining halls will be open this semester but with some changes. They will be takeout only, and students can order their food in advance and will be served food by the dining hall workers. There will be prepackaged food items like salads, and they will no longer use finger scanners to access the dining halls and will instead have to bring their ID cards to swipe in. She also said that for people with allergies or other dietary restrictions, the best dining hall to go to will be Philbrook Dining Hall or Stillings Dining Hall. Students can order online and specify the allergies they have and the food they would like to order. She also said that UNH dining is working right now to put together a video on how it will all work.  

“We will be successful if we come with the right attitude,” Holmes said. He emphasized that to be successful everyone needs to come together and follow the rules in place to keep everyone safe. He said they will continue to send updates to students and parents and work toward having a safe semester.  

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