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Social distancing at Radford University creates peaceful move-in days

Social distancing at Radford University creates peaceful move-in days

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RADFORD — A casual visitor to Radford University, gazing across the mostly empty quads, might not have realized that students had begun to move in on Saturday, but for the occasional glimpse of someone lugging a television or fan through the front door of a dorm.

As part of the safety measures the university has taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Radford’s students will return to campus over a period of 11 days. That started Saturday, when 500 students were scheduled to arrive.

The university is limiting the number of students that can move in per day, and social distancing is further enforced by having the families arrive at staggered times from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., so that only one family is in a given zone at a time.

Put into practice, those measures resulted in a jarringly pastoral campus scene, a pleasant surprise to anyone who might have arrived expecting scarce parking and swarms of families hefting luggage and loft bed assemblies.

“More space, less germs,” said Cheryl Conway. She and her husband Todd had driven seven hours from Flanders, New Jersey, to bring their 17-year-old daughter Molly, a freshman soccer player and criminal justice major. Student athletes and resident advisers are among the first to check in under Radford’s plan.

“With everything’s that’s been going around, I don’t know what to expect. I’m just interested in how it’s all going to play out,” Molly Conway said.

The Conways have six children, with Molly the only girl. Todd Conway described campus move-ins from years past with his older sons as “absolute chaos, people everywhere, couldn’t get your stuff moved in.” He wished those other moves had been more like his daughter’s.

Of the colleges the Conways’ children are enrolled in, Radford was the first to admit students back to campus. “She just got her ID, we were the only ones there,” said Cheryl Conway. “There’s no line.”

Indeed there were no lines at the outdoor check-in stations where students could pick up their keys, a face mask and some hand sanitizer, or in the Heth Hall lobby where students collected student IDs and parking passes, or in the gym inside Peters Hall where COVID-19 testing took place.

Conducted by lab personnel with Nashville, Tennessee, medical firm PathGroup, the tests did not involve the 6-inch nasopharyngeal swabs that probe deep into the sinuses. Instead they used nasal swabs to take samples from the nostril.

Only students considered to have arrived from locales designated as COVID-19 hot spots were sent to take the tests.

The university has estimated the cost of testing during the move-in at $170,000.

“We’ve also started a contact-tracing tracking system that we’re using that students can access on their phones,” included in the university’s mobile apps for students, said Anthony White, Director for Housing and Residential Life, who was helping man one of the check-in booths. If a student tests positive for COVID-19, the app will help identify who they might have been around.

Returning students will find some new pandemic-related precautions in place that may take some getting used to. About a quarter of classes will be taught online, including those with 50 or more students enrolled, and classrooms and labs will be configured for social distancing. Dining halls won’t have self-serve options, though they will offer more grab-and-go items, said Caitlyn Scaggs, Radford’s Associate Vice President for University Relations.

Regardless of pandemic concerns, students like Molly Conway and 18-year-old recreational therapy major Dorian Starr used the same word to express how they felt about being on campus:


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Mike Allen covers government happenings in Franklin County and Botetourt County for The Roanoke Times and also writes the weekly Arts & Extras column.

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