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Dining Centers Continue to Support On-Campus Students
Nebraska Ag Connection - 03/25/2020

Life at the University of Nebraska--Lincoln looks a little different than it did a week ago.

Despite all that's changed, students who continue to live in campus residence halls have been able to stop by dining centers to pick up breakfast, lunch and dinner as needed.

Dave Annis, director of University Dining Services, said keeping the food options available is part of a larger message the university is trying to send to students: We're here for you, even in tough times.

"What we've been trying to do, first and foremost, is make sure that we are providing a safe food environment for the students that are still here," Annis said.

Nebraska's dining and residence halls have remained open to students since the university announced on March 12 that, due to the spread of novel coronavirus, it would cancel in-person classes and move to remote-access instruction.

According to Annis, dining staff began preparing for the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in Nebraska several weeks in advance.

"When all of this really started to break about a month ago, dining started taking steps like bringing in to-go containers, stocking up on different types of food that are easier to prepare with smaller numbers of staff, and switching out shared tongs and utensils every 30 minutes," Annis said. "We also began using special disinfectants, rather than sanitizers, to completely kill the virus if it is present."

Annis and his team have been meeting daily to keep up with local and national changes in health protocol. On March 18, all Nebraska dining halls shifted to a limit of 15 people at a time and began serving food on a takeout-only basis.

"Day by day, everything's just a little bit different," Annis said. "Currently, we're letting 15 people at a time into the dining centers so that we don't have long, crowded lines of people. So, as one person goes out, the next person comes in -- trying to maintain appropriate social distancing. We're also serving the food to the students instead of having them self-serve so that they aren't handling the tongs and utensils and the cross-contamination that comes with that."

The ongoing pandemic has created some challenges when it comes to staffing Nebraska's dining centers.

"We've lost quite a few employees that are having to stay home because Lincoln Public Schools is out and they don't have child care," Annis said. "We have also lost a lot of our student staff."

However, Annis is thankful for how his remaining employees have stepped up in a time of need.

He also expressed gratitude for the positivity he's seen from remaining students on campus.

"Students seem to be adjusting really well -- they understand and they've been very patient if we don't have the selection or the hours that we used to," Annis said. "Our staff is trying to be very open and adaptable. I've also heard from many of our employees how much they appreciate how the university is looking out and caring for them."

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