It is not easy to be protected from COVID-19 while sharing a meal with others.
This is the predicament Oklahoma Christian University and UDining has faced during the coronavirus pandemic.
Eating with a mask is not possible, so individuals who are eating cannot control aerosol emissions. This makes campus eating spaces in the Branch and in the student center more vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission.
Lauren Olson, general manager of UDining, spoke with the Talon about what measures are being taken to keep students safe while eating on campus.
“Stickers have been placed on the tables showing social distancing spacing,” Olson said. “Tables have been rearranged and chairs have been moved in order to accommodate that.”
While these stickers are placed at tables to prevent students from occupying the tables, many students choose to ignore the stickers and still sit in groups. Olson said there is no punishment towards students who opt to ignore the recommendations.
“If students choose not to follow those guidelines, there is not much we can do about that,” Olson said. ‘We are going to lay it out as best we can and give as much guidance to students, but without having someone standing at every table, it’s not a possibility to follow all the guidelines.”
However, Olson said students who are concerned about the Branch’s safety have the option to receive meals to go.
“You can go to Student Life and let them know you are uncomfortable eating in the Branch,” Olson said. “They will send you to [the UDining] office and we will give you a sticker for your ID card. When you scan your ID at the Branch, the cashier will give you a to-go box.”
Olson also said this option is an “all-or-nothing” system: you may either eat all of your meals in the Branch or take all of your meals to go.
Many students continue to visit the Branch as normal, but some say they have mixed feelings regarding its safety.
Sophomore Sommers Bowker said she still eats at the Branch, but feels the dining room can get crowded.
“If there are a ton of people there, then I normally leave,” Bowker said. “It’s overloaded. They should skip every other table and have Clorox wipes at every table so we can wipe them down.”
Tessa Spencer, a sophomore political science student, said she eats in the Branch twice a day and feels comfortable eating in groups.
“Personally, I like sitting with my friends, so I don’t have a problem with it, but I realize we probably should distance more,” Spencer said.
Spencer also said she does not think other distancing guidelines would help students.
“More regulations wouldn’t change anything because people are already ignoring the ones in place,” Spencer said. “Unless there is someone saying, ‘don’t sit there,’ then it’s not going to change.”
According to Olson, all UDining employees receive health screenings before their shift and safety guidelines like mask requirements, mandatory hand washing every half hour and hand sanitizer are used to ensure safety.
Olson also said capacity is limited in the Branch’s serving area to 45 individuals during lunch and dinner and 25 during breakfast. Self-serve stations such as the dessert counter and salad bar are now served by employees. Silverware and condiments are also distributed by employees and new napkin dispensers are designed to be touch-free.
UDining also provides meals for students in quarantine in coordination with the Student Life and Events offices. Quarantined students may request meals depending on their personal dietary needs.
“We choose one menu item per meal,” Olson said. “Based on the dietary restrictions of the student, we customize their meals. We try to change it up and keep it interesting. We vary the different stations; we’ve also done Chick-fil-a.”
Junior Emily Myers was recently quarantined with one of her roommates. She said UDining provided lunch and dinner from the Branch, along with a breakfast package on weekends.
“Every meal would be something warm like enchiladas or fajitas, a packaged side like chips or bread, a side salad and a packaged dessert like cookies,” Myers said. “My roommate is dairy-free, so we had different meals.”
Myers said she appreciated the effort from UDining and Student Life in providing food but wished there were more options.
“I did not eat most of the meals,” Myers said. “They just did not look good. I wish there was a way you could see the cafeteria menu and pick which meal you want.”
However, Myers said she appreciated the staff’s encouragement when they brought food.
“They were really nice,” Myers said. “They always asked us how we were doing, so the OC people are great.”