quarantined food

Johanna Peel wheels a cart of food for residents in Davis Hall on Tuesday. USU catering has been providing meals for students quarantined in four dorms after COVID-19 was detected in the wastewater of those buildings.

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Preparedness paid off for USU Dining Services this week when four student residence halls were quarantined due to high levels of coronavirus detected in the wastewater.

Within hours of Sunday’s administrative alert announcing the measure, the department prepared and delivered meals to all the dorms and has continued with three daily deliveries as COVID-19 test results are awaited for the roughly 280 quarantined students.

“We had a process in place because we knew that there might be some quarantine or isolation happening in the student housing. We’ve been working on it for a couple of months,” said Amy Rasmussen, associate director of Catering and Event Services at USU. “It’s a pretty well-oiled machine. It went through a few tweaks yesterday (Monday), but we got them taken care of and it’s now running really smoothly.”

USU chefs had a menu already in place for potential residence hall quarantines plus a system to customize meals for individuals with specific dietary restrictions such as gluten-free food.

Since the four affected residence halls — Rich, Jones, Morgan and Davis — feature many suites with kitchens, most of the students quarantined are not signed up for regular food service, but USU is covering the cost of the meals.

USU Dining Services did not need to add any extra employees to accomplish this week’s challenge, but it has modified its typical box-lunch packaging to cut down on excess paper use.

Aside from the quarantine situation, Rasmussen said feeding students at USU’s two dining halls has gone smoothly in the first few days of the semester. The department is following social-distancing protocols, and although there are limits on how many students can dine at once, Rasmussen said she has seen no major backups.

In addition to the meal operation, the university has supported the quarantined students in other ways, providing COVID care kits with masks, sanitizer and thermometers, offering to help with academic accommodations and making counseling available.

Results from students’ COVID-19 tests started trickling in Wednesday, and so far none have been positive. USU Director of Crisis Communication Amanda DeRito said a more complete picture of the situation should be available Thursday.

There have been reports that some students left the quarantined dorms to return to their homes on the Wasatch Front and Southern Idaho, and DeRito said this was an acceptable option to the university.

“Students can determine where they will quarantine,” she said. “We don’t recommend that they travel very far because they could actually expose other people if they had it. But if a student is from like Salt Lake or something and they went to their permanent home to quarantine, they just need to stay in touch to make sure we get their test result.”

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