The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has prepared the Piper wing of Neihardt Hall as a quarantine facility for students who may have been exposed to the 2019 novel coronavirus.
Nebraska’s housing facilities team began readying and cleaning Piper — which has been unoccupied since Neihardt Hall closed to student residents in May 2019 — on March 11, one day before the university announced it would cancel classes and transition to remote instruction. Since then, a team of 12 custodians and five facilities employees have worked round-the-clock — including over the weekend — to ensure it’s equipped for students.
“We’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, and we actively started setting this up last Wednesday,” said Larry Shippen, associate director of Housing Facilities Operations. “We set up Piper as a quarantine facility so that as we have people returning from study abroad trips in level-three countries, if they have no other place to go, there’s the opportunity for them to self-quarantine here on campus. Students still living on campus who feel they may have been exposed to the virus also have this option.”
Shippen clarified that quarantine, in comparison to isolation, is for students who aren’t exhibiting symptoms but are at-risk because of places they visited or people they came into contact with.
By using Piper as a quarantine facility, Shippen said, the university can maintain the health and safety of its on-campus students while continuing to provide housing options.
“We have 450 international students here on campus that don’t have anywhere else to go. We have people in other situations that could be homeless if we didn’t offer shelter to them. For the university to stand up and say ‘We’ve got you, we’ll take care of you,’ says a lot about the university as a whole,” Shippen said.
Housing facilities staff have converted Piper’s double-occupancy rooms to single-occupancy, which involved hauling mattresses and furniture up and down stairs; as well as disinfecting, dusting and vacuuming bathrooms, hallways and rooms.
Staff members also brought in microwaves to pair with refrigerators in Piper so students can reheat food as necessary. Those in quarantine will be provided menus so they can order breakfast, lunch and dinner from Dining Services. All meals will be delivered to students in Piper.
Shippen and his team have worked closely with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Lancaster County Health Department to develop quarantine protocols and ensure that the health of staff members supporting students in Piper remains a top priority.
“We’ve been preparing processes to take care of our staff when it comes to checking students into the building and providing food and cleaning services to them,” Shippen said. “We’re looking at all of those issues to make sure our staff are taken care of, protected and we don’t risk exposing them.”
Although the COVID-19 crisis is fast-moving, Shippen and his team are prepared to meet challenges that arise.
“The fluidity of the situation changes so much not only daily, but hourly. We’re constantly modifying to adapt to the most current information and advice,” Shippen said.
He’s also been touched by the resiliency displayed by faculty and staff members at Nebraska over the last week.
“I think we all know this is coming. It’s not if, it’s when. The entire university community has come together so well that when we ask for assistance when we need it, there’s no hesitation. Everybody just jumps right in and does whatever they need to do to prepare,” he said.
“It’s so satisfying to work with a group of people that are so committed and have such large hearts.”