On Monday, Auburn's campus reopened for face-to-face classes for the first time since March 16. Gray skies heralded the day's start of the second summer "mini-mester" but quickly gave way to the blazing heat of a late June day.
Though professors and faculty were informed they could resume to face-to-face instruction this week, it was not something that many instructors chose to do. Many classrooms and entire buildings remained empty, and public spaces — both indoors and outdoors — remained sparsely populated throughout the day.
The University Bookstore, which reopened on June 15, was one area that saw somewhat more activity than others. Staff have recently renovated the store to include Plexiglas shields at checkout counters, and directional physical distancing markers are placed around the floor. Some of the checkout counters even have two baskets of pens — one for the fresh ones and one for the used ones.
Bradley Hicks, sophomore in building science and an employee at the bookstore, said it was a different change of pace.
"I just got back a week or two ago, and it's been weird," Hicks said. "We do a lot of sanitization every day during closing time. We try and wipe everything down where hands will be. [Business] is starting to pick up more and more."
Even so, the number of people back on campus on the first day was low, a sight made obvious by how few passengers boarded Tiger Transit buses. The buses resumed operations on their normal routes at the usual 7 a.m. on Monday. A message reading "masks required" displayed on each vehicle's route signage notifying students of the new policy Transportation Services put in place as it looks to welcome them back.
Facilities and offices around campus opened in limited capacity with some changes, most notably the University's new face covering requirement that began for all buildings on June 22. One such office was the Veterans Resource Center, which had previously accepted walk-in appointments before this week's reopening.
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Jennifer Orona, senior in agricultural science, is under a work-study program at the VRC and has been present at the office for much of the summer because of the nature of the VRC's physical documents. However, she said she is glad to see some return to normal.
"I think the first few months that this happened, it was kinda a little disheartening just because we miss our student veterans," she said. "Working with people, seeing them every day, then go for three months without seeing people in a set schedule, I think it was just a readjustment for everybody."
Some of the most notable changes for students are the social distancing restrictions in popular study areas. For example, in RBD Library, many chairs in study areas were bound together with cellophane tape, and restrooms had an occupancy restriction of one person. The large second-floor study room in RBD, which was often buzzing with groups working together and quizzing each other, now has significantly fewer tables, all of which are placed far away from one another.
Ayeh Trish, sophomore in biomedical science, works in the library's circulation department and said she doesn't expect her position to be difficult during the summer with few students, but things may ramp up in the fall.
"Usually, we'll have a person wait at the desk and I'll just go get the book; it's been relatively easy to adapt," she said. "I think it's going to be a lot harder to regulate those things as the number of students grows, especially if we're only going to rely on the honor policy."
Another change dependent on this 'honor policy' lies in separately marked entrances and exits to buildings that can now be seen on doors all across campus. Nearly every building has had roughly half of its doors designated for people going in and the other half for people going out.
However, many areas of campus stayed dark and locked on Monday while other places were reopening. The Chick-fil-A and Starbucks in the Student Center are the only two dining options available at present, and both close at 3 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 2 p.m. on Fridays. The Student Center itself now closes at 4:45 p.m. on weekdays. The Recreation and Wellness Center posted on its social media pages that it will open next Tuesday, additionally on limited hours.
Other offices are open, but signs outside urge visitors to schedule appointments, such as with RBD Library's Special Collections and Archives, and Student Counseling Services.
One of the public resources that is fully operational with the reopening is the James E. Foy Information Desk. Will Root, sophomore in engineering and a Foy desk employee, said an empty student center is different to come back to.
"We're only doing one person per shift, so that's down on the hours so we're still able to work a little bit," Root said. "I've gotten a few phone calls, but it's been a lot slower than it usually is."
Root said he's confident that the measures the University is enforcing will mean safe return for everyone else in the fall.
"I like how they have the traffic thing going with the doors, and I like how everyone's required to wear masks inside," Root said. "I'd kinda like to see ... them pushing people to wear masks more than they have been."
With thousands of students and faculty expected back this fall, Monday's reopening was the University's first opportunity to test strategies for containing the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
However, with the vast majority of professors opting to have their classes online rather than face-to-face, many of these strategies will not see large amounts of students until the fall.
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