After UNC faced outbreaks of COVID-19 at the start of the fall semester, the majority of on-campus students left to return home or to find an off-campus residence. But a little over 1,000 students remained living in residence halls, according to the University’s COVID-19 Dashboard.
And the on-campus experience, in light of COVID-19 guidelines, is vastly different than anything experienced before.
Starting the day
Vishal Balyan, a sophomore business administration major, is currently residing in Hinton James Residence Hall, where he works as a resident adviser.
He often begins his day bright and early with a run or a bike ride. Balyan begins his workout around 6 a.m. and runs to the UNC Student Stores, where he stops to stretch for 10 to 15 minutes.
He’ll then run to Franklin Street and choose which direction to go, either turning right to head down East Franklin or left toward Carrboro. Balyan said he bikes 20 to 30 miles, sometimes making it to Durham.
On days when Balyan doesn’t run, bike, or swim in the morning, he goes to Rams Head Recreation Center on campus. The gym offers two-hour shifts with an hour in between, when staff cleans the machines.
When Balyan enters the gym, he’s asked several COVID-related questions, and then is able to go work out. He brings his own water bottle, as water fountains are only opened to fill bottles.
Balyan said the gym is spaced out so no machine is within six feet of another, and there is blue tape all around, indicating 6 feet of distance so that students can space out.
“The gym is really nice now that they’ve spaced out all the machines,” Balyan said. “And you don’t have to wear your mask as long as you're in your box.”
The downside, Balyan said, is that the gym capacity fills up fairly quickly. He generally books a slot a day and a half to two days in advance so that he can guarantee himself a spot.
Challenges of residence halls
Sara McClure, a first-year student majoring in media and journalism, is living in Carmichael Residence Hall in a suite.
She has 8 a.m. classes most days and makes breakfast in her room to avoid spending time walking between the dining hall and her dorm room. She said she usually eats yogurt or something else that’s easy to keep in the dorm.
Fiona Crawley, a first-year studying anthropology, lives with a roommate in Carmichael as well. Because she shares a room, she said navigating Zoom classes has been a challenge.
“I could be in class while Riley’s also in class and so it’s hard sometimes,” she said. “We both have to have headphones in, and we’ll all be talking, and so it’s kind of hard to do that.”
After Crawley finishes class in the morning, and in the periods between class, she said she’ll work on her homework. She generally studies in her room, although she occasionally works at the tables in the hallways in Carmichael.
Sometimes, when she goes to the dining hall to eat, she’ll take advantage of its emptiness to do work there.
“I’ll bring my computer and go sit in one of the corner tables and kind of just put my headphones in and work if I want to be by myself,” Crawley said.
Eating on campus
Around midday, McClure goes with several of her teammates on the tennis team to Chase Dining Hall to eat lunch.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to meet many other people because online classes, obviously, and the tennis team are really only able to hang out with each other,” McClure said.
At Chase, she’ll generally get pasta or make a big salad for lunch. All the food is either pre-packaged grab-and-go, or is served to students by dining hall employees.
“Usually there’s not many people there for lunch,” McClure said. “I’ll probably see like 10 people in the dining hall. There’s no line.”
Students must sit at individual tables, so McClure and her friends will sit at neighboring tables so they can still talk to each other.
“It’s just not the same as sitting at the same table,” McClure said.
Throughout the day, Balyan can be found sitting inside the Stone & Leaf Cafe or at the tables outside of the Student Stores, where he does his Zoom classes and homework.
There’s a large tent in the middle of the quad where students will sit to do schoolwork, but Balyan said he usually doesn’t sit there because it’s often pretty packed and the view isn’t as nice.
“The weather has been pretty nice for the last few days, so it’s been okay to sit outside,” he said.
Balyan usually stays out to do schoolwork between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m., then heads back to his room to finish up the remainder of his work. He’ll then make dinner in the Hinton James kitchen, as he chose to cook for himself this semester rather than eating in the dining hall.
In the afternoon and evening, McClure and Crawley have tennis practice. They do their fitness training on the field at Kenan Memorial Stadium, with the trainers bringing dumbbells and bands outside.
“We do it outside to be safer,” Crawley said. “And we’re always six feet apart. We wipe everything down.”
After practice, Crawley and McClure head to the dining hall for dinner, sometimes checking out green to-go boxes to take food back to the dorm.
At 10 p.m., Balyan makes his RA rounds, although there aren’t many people still living in the dorms.
“At least in HoJo, there’s not that many people,” he said. “It’s majority staff, which is like 20 or 30 RAs. And then I guess a few residents for each floor.”
The rounds, which include walking down each hallway in Hinton James, usually take 15 to 20 minutes.
“We haven’t seen anything during rounds,” Balyan said. “There’s nothing happening.”
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