Following the Feb. 1 Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) order that allowed restaurants in Michigan to reopen indoor dining at a limited capacity, three designated dining spaces on campus have followed suit. Lower Baldwin, upper Baldwin and the Kellogg Center Stack have all been readjusted to resume indoor dining while still following rules set by MDHHS order.
Adjustments to accommodate MDHHS guidelines include seating only one person to a table, distancing all seats by at least six feet, and changing the orientation of some seats to prevent contact that is closer than six feet.
“Once you take that mask off, that’s a high risk activity,” said Connie Smith, associate vice president of student development. “Your air doesn’t just go forward, it goes all around you, and that’s why we have the one person to a table because the person sitting next to you may not be in your bubble.”
According to Smith, getting to this point was a complicated journey that involved more than just following MDHHS orders.
“If people are sitting with their masks off closer than six feet apart, that can be a very high risk activity, particularly inside, which is why we didn’t allow any of that in the fall semester,” said Smith. “We made plans that we would start out slow and gradual in anticipation of what might happen and made the decision that we would only have one person at a table so that we could guarantee people are more than six feet apart.”
With outdoor dining becoming less of an option in students’ minds due to declining temperatures, the task of opening indoor dining services became all the more important.
“We needed to think about how students could sit inside and consume their meals versus always taking it out like in the fall, knowing that we would be experiencing temperatures like we’re currently experiencing in the teens,” said Smith. “We needed to do what we think will keep students safe.”
In addition to interpreting the order for themselves, the COVID-19 Coordination Team, headed by Athletic Director Matt Arend, has been in contact with the Calhoun County Health Department to receive guidance on the order. This included the distinction of how the college’s dining services differ from restaurants.
According to Smith, the COVID-19 Coordination team interpreted the order to imply that those sitting together at a restaurant will be from the same immediate household. The implication for college dining services, however, is different.
“Restaurants have to, as I understand, [take] down people’s contact information, writing down the names of everybody that’s in that group and keeping that group six feet apart,” said Smith. “The way our dining service works, we’re not a restaurant. Students come in and are not necessarily around the same people they’re with on a regular basis.”
In addition to opening the only designated dining locations on campus, lower and upper Baldwin, the portion of the second floor of the Kellogg Center, known as the Stack, has been temporarily designated as a dining location. This new designation implies that the Stack is no longer multipurpose, as it was before, but is now specifically for dining only.
“We decided to have a place to sit besides upper and lower Baldwin, which is a dining specific building,” said Smith. “Knowing that students eat at the Eat Shop more than some other venues, there would be an opportunity to sit and consume your food while you’re in that building.”
While dining indoors with friends still does not appear the same as it did prior to the pandemic, the distanced seating to some students is still preferable to carrying their meals back to their rooms.
“Walking back to the dorm, it’s cold,” said Dante Wilson, a first-year from Albion. “I feel like it’s better.”
The convenience of the open seating also allows for an easier meal with friends, according to Brandon Luttig, a sophomore from Fowler.
“It’s better to eat with friends than to have to find your own space every time,” said Luttig.
As time goes on, the college hopes to continue making changes to dining for the safety and convenience of students based on information from MDHHS and the Calhoun County Health Department. For now, students can continue with what they are supposed to be doing, according to Smith.
“It’s not easy, we all want to live the way we used to but if we can practice the social distancing, keeping the mask on, doing all of that on a regular basis, going to the testing when you’re scheduled to be tested, those things will help us get to the point,” said Smith. “These are the things we need to do to stay open until graduation and stay safe.”