Students are accustomed to gathering in E-Hall with groups of friends or lingering between classes at D-Hall to catch up on work while grabbing a quick bite. However, dining halls are looking a bit different this semester.
In an email, JMU Deputy Spokesperson & Assistant Director of Media Relations Mary-Hope Vass said the university has put in place several health and safety strategies in its dining halls to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. Some of these measures include removing self-serve options, allowing for contactless mobile payment and providing hand washing stations and additional hand sanitizer dispensers for guests and employees.
Sophomore nursing major Audrey Overton said she’s noticed limited seating and floor decals that’ve been added to help students adhere to social distancing protocols. Because she lives at the Grace Street Apartments and has a 14-punch meal plan, she said she tries to eat on campus twice a day. However, Overton said she doesn’t feel comfortable taking her mask off to eat in dining halls, so she usually will take her food outside or back to her apartment.
“I know it’s really hard, with such a big volume of people, to regulate where people should be and enforcing social distancing,” Overton said. “But I think they underestimated greatly how many students were going to be in a dining hall at one time.”
D-Hall has extended its hours to all-day service instead of having breaks between meal periods, Vass said in an email, which allows crowds to space out more evenly throughout the day. However, Overton said the lunch and dinner rushes still make it difficult for those waiting for food to socially distance.
“It kind of freaks me out,” Overton said. “It still makes me kind of nervous to be in downstairs D-Hall at, like, 6:30 p.m. when everybody else is there.”
Dining hall employees have also experienced changes. The JMU Dining Services website says necessary personal protective equipment has been provided and employees are expected to wash their hands every 20 minutes. Sophomore international business major Julia Scott has worked in dining services for a year, and she said besides having to wear masks, not much feels different. She said she and her co-workers are used to the rigorous cleaning rules because they work with food, and the biggest change is being more mindful about changing gloves.
“I definitely do feel safe,” Scott said. “Knowing that my co-workers want to be as safe as I am definitely makes me feel a lot better.”
Scott said she works at Freshens around 8 hours per week. The masks and barriers between her and customers can make it difficult to hear their orders, she said, but customers are usually very patient. Scott said she’s unsure if Freshens will close if they don’t get enough business as students head home, but she said she’ll work in dining services for as long as she’s able.
“Right now I’m very thankful that where I work is still open so that I’m not having to worry about finding another job,” Scott said. “They’re flexible with my hours and patient with me as a student, so I really appreciate that.”
Vass said updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health will be closely monitored as the semester continues.
“As we continue to adapt to this ever-changing situation, we remain committed to the well-being of our guests and team members,” Vass said in an email.
Contact Kamryn Koch at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.