MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Visible signs were everywhere Monday at the University of South Alabama indicating that this was no normal first day of classes
Students spread apart, waiting to get into the bookstore.
Markings in hallways and cross-walks, reminding people to stay away from one another.
Everyone wearing masks.
And that’s when they were on the campus at all. A high number of the university’s 14,000 students this year will be taking classes exclusively online or a taking hybrid schedule, with some instruction in the classroom and some classes occurring remotely.
“It’s been an atypical first day of classes, because we are of course in the middle of a pandemic,” said Mike Mitchell, the university’s vice president for student affairs and dean of students.
Mitchell said students seem to be adjusting to the new normal.
“As I walked around campus this morning and I gave out masks at our welcome tent, I saw, almost every student that was going to class this morning, wearing a mask,” he told FOX10 News.
Every student arriving on campus received a pair of free masks, and the university was still giving them away at several spots throughout the campus. Mitchell said those giveaways will continue through the end of the week, at least.
Briley Graves, a senior engineering student, was volunteering today at Shelby Hall handing out South Alabama masks. The university is offering two styles, the USA logo against a background of red or blue, matching the school’s colors.
“It’s actually been a lot busier than I thought it would have been,” she said. “So we’ve been distributing masks, the university has, for the past few weeks. But I think today was a great idea to start doing it on the first day of classes because a lot of students have stopped by and gotten them.”
Senior Jordan Houston said she is used to wearing masks because of her job at Home Depot. But added that the South Alabama coverings are the most comfortable.
“These are actually the best masks that I have, like the four masks now ’cause I have the blue and red. And then I bought one, and my parents bought me one,” she said. “These South masks are actually the best ones. They fit the best. They’re still pretty breathable, too.”
Students do not have to wear the university-issued masks, but they will not be able to put on fleece gaiter-style masks. The university prohibited those coverings after a Duke University study earlier this month found that they may do more harm than good.
“Unfortunately, a lot of those gaiters are not made from the quality of fabrics that are going to prevent particles from transferring,” Mitchell said.
In addition to masks, the university is relying on public education and screening to prevent novel coronavirus cases form turning into outbreaks. Students living in the dorms will move temporarily to a “quarantine unit,” which Mitchell said has space for 43 or 43 students.
The school also is in the process of arranging coronavirus tests for its students. He said he does not have preliminary numbers but indicated that only a small number of have tested positive so far.
GuideSafe, which offering the testing to universities in Alabama, found 0.83 percent of University of Alabama System students were positive for COVID-19. If that sounds like, consider that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide in Alabama only comes to about 2.1 percent of the population. Subtracting those who have died and those who are “presumed recovered,” the figure falls to 1.2 percent.
Mitchell said South Alabama has urged students to monitor and self-report any fevers or other symptoms of the disease.
“Screening is actually going to be an ongoing part of our screening program for the fall semester,” he said.
In addition to the masks, students returning to campus will find no large social gatherings. University officials are encouraging students to do more extracurricular activities online. Even the calendar is different.
After Thanksgiving, students will come back until January. Mitchell says it is hard to know what to expect.
“Well you know what, you don’t know. And that’s the thing about this very unusual year,” he said. “We’re starting our first day, with the hopes that we can provide an environment which is as safe as possible and also with the hopes that we can make it to Thanksgiving and get through a successful fall semester.”