Linda Aguilera didn’t want to stay home.
She’s a building manager at UC Riverside’s Lothian Residence Hall and on a recent day worked the front desk, checking out students who are returning home for spring quarter — a move-out process that came three months too early.
About 200 students have moved out each day, a sudden move prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I stay motivated knowing that I’m doing what I love, which is working with students,” said Aguilera, who started working at UCR a year and a half ago.
On Thursday, March 19, Aguilera stood behind Lothian’s front counter, wearing plastic gloves and keeping her distance as she answered questions about vacuums and big blue move-out carts, delivered mail, and kept track of the blue, white, and pink envelopes in which students deposited their room keys.
As of March 1, the most recent count, about 2,200 students had opted to cancel their spring quarter contracts; UCR offers student housing to more than 6,600 students, including those in family housing.
COVID-19 compelled UCR’s leadership to encourage students who could safely return home, to do so. UCR’s housing and dining services will continue to operate on limited hours, but students who remain on campus will have food and housing available, said David Henry, executive director for Housing, Dining and Hospitality Services.
His teams joined forces with Residential Life and Facilities Services to continue campus operations and help things run as smoothly as possible.
While housings staff are processing the hundreds of cancellations, they are also preparing housing packages for students moving in this fall, said Lisa Laws, assistant director of Residential Services.
“Our staff are still coming in every day. They are aware other employees are working from home, yet they are showing up,” Laws said. “They are truly on the front line and it’s not a small undertaking.”
There are many moving parts, and it’s now an “it takes a village” approach, said Robert Brumbaugh, senior director of Housing Services.
“Residential Life and Facilities Services have been incredible partners. Everyone is doing their share and are working together as a team, it’s been incredible,” Henry said. “We are here for the students, and everyone understands that.”
Housing and facilities crews will execute deep cleaning and disinfecting in empty room, starting next week. These teams are now using medical-grade sanitation materials.
Every hour, Dining, Housing and Hospitality workers are wiping down high-touch areas, such as counters. They have also been asked to switch-out gloves more often, said Robin Meribeth Hungerford, director of Residential Dining and Hospitality Services. Dining has become pick-up only.
On its end, Facilities Services is cleaning and removing trash from housing locations and supporting about 12 buildings, using a chemical disinfectant recommended by UCR’s Environmental Health and Safety, a product approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the many students who are expected to remain in campus housing, the question is how to stay connected while abiding by social distancing norms. Residential Life teams are starting to brainstorm ideas, said John-Paul Wolf, assistant director of campus apartments.
“We have a moral obligation to offer housing for our students that continue to need it, and we are going to continue to do that as best we can,” Henry said.
On Thursday, dozens of students were moving out. All had mixed feelings over their truncated first year dorm life experiences.
The Tom family drove from Berkeley to pick up their daughter, Hailey Tom, a freshman living at Lothian. Hailey had planned on flying home for spring break.
“I figured since spring quarter in-person classes had been cancelled, I might as well go home,” Hailey Tom said. “It sucks, but I didn’t want to stay in an empty hall. And for the future, I guess I’ll have stories to tell my children one day!”
Tom’s family was one of several dozen who lined up outside Lothian, Glen Mor, and Aberdeen-Inverness.
“I don’t know that I could sit at home knowing that this is going on and that we need to help students move out,” Aguilera said. “We’re wearing gloves, we’re wiping off counters, we’re keeping our distances, students are dropping off their keys in envelopes instead of handing them to me. We’re just trying our best.”