Dining halls resume indoor dining as administrators express optimism about COVID-19 numbers
Dining halls will transition from grab-and-go to dine-in service on Monday, a decision that Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd said came “earlier than expected.”
Regina Sung, Photo Editor
Students will be allowed to eat inside dining halls for the first time since Dec. 16, when Yale transitioned to grab-and-go service, starting on Monday.
Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd announced the change in a Jan. 28 email to students, adding that students would be expected to socially distance while eating whenever possible, to avoid lingering in the dining hall after they have finished their meal and to wear masks when not actively eating. The reopening of dining halls, according to Boyd’s email, came “earlier than expected,” indicating that public health conditions may also allow for other in-person events and gatherings to gradually resume.
“There was no set date for allowing in-person dining again, but I had not expected it to be this early,” Boyd wrote in an email to the News. “It is only possible due to the lower-than-expected campus infection rates, which I credit to the students’ careful pre-arrival and arrival testing, and cooperation with the phase one and two arrival quarantines.”
University officials, including University Provost Scott Strobel, also remain optimistic about the return to in-person classes next week, which is slated for Feb. 7. Sten Vermund, dean of the School of Public Health, added that Yale has a chance of shifting from the orange to yellow alert level relatively soon.
The new dining guidelines apply to all 14 residential college dining halls, while Commons will resume lunch service on Feb. 7. The Bow Wow will continue with standard service hours, as it has since Jan. 24.
Boyd told the News that those who wish to continue with grab-and-go dining would still be able to request containers in the dining halls for their meals.
In emails to the student body staggered throughout winter recess, University administrators announced that the spring 2022 semester would be delayed by a week, and would begin with two weeks of remote instruction as well as a two-phase quarantine. In the first phase, students were asked to quarantine in their suites until receiving a negative arrival test for COVID-19. In the second phase, which is set to end on Feb. 7, students are expected to minimize contact with New Haven establishments, opting for curbside pickup or delivery.
Students were permitted to return to campus as early as Jan. 14, and will continue arriving until Feb. 6, per an updated policy announced Jan. 14. In the seven-day period between Jan. 22 and Jan. 28, Yale has seen 198 cases of COVID-19, of which 57 were among students living on-campus, according to the University COVID-19 dashboard — a significant decrease from an early-January spike, in which cases peaked at 167 in a single day. Seventy-six percent of isolation housing capacity, which was expanded to include McClellan Hall at the beginning of the semester, is currently available.
“I think that the vaccine booster requirements and the testing requirements are going to be very helpful,” Vermund told the News. “I’m very optimistic. I think we’ll open up face-to-face teaching at a time when, first of all, COVID-19 is on the decline anyway, and second of all, with pretty good provisions and policies in place.”
Boyd, who described in-person dining as “a priority,” told the News that dining halls were both a logistical convenience for students and a key element of community life. However, Boyd added that students removing their masks to eat together carries risk, and emphasized the importance of students social distancing and wearing masks when possible.
But Vermund suggested that there could be a public health benefit to opening the dining halls, as students could be dissuaded from taking their grab-and-go meals to eat together in smaller, poorly ventilated spaces.
“The dining halls tend to be a little bit on the cavernous side,” Vermund said. “They’re roomy, airy places. You could argue that if you do takeout, and you sit in a small room with a few friends, you could have a higher chance of exposure to virus than if you’re in a larger Hogwarts-type dining room.”
The next scheduled change to the public health restrictions currently in place pertains to in-person instruction, which is set to resume on Feb. 7. Although students have expressed concerns that remote learning would persist past this date, Boyd told the News that she felt “very optimistic” that classes would resume on schedule.
In a Jan. 24 message to University faculty, Strobel reaffirmed Yale’s commitment to resuming in-person instruction on Feb. 7.
“We are confident that these safety measures, combined with the admirable adherence that our community has displayed throughout the pandemic, position us for in-person instruction through the months ahead,” Strobel wrote. “We are fully committed to a resumption of in-person instruction, which for most schools in the university will begin on February 7th, and our goal is that this mode of instruction will continue through the balance of the spring semester.”
After classes resume in person, Boyd told the News, updates to the events and gathering policies are likely to become administrators’ primary focus. All in-person events and gatherings without prior approval have been suspended since a Jan. 7 announcement from University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler, and Boyd did not elaborate on the timeline for events and gatherings resuming over the course of the semester.
Vermund told the News that indicators used to track the severity of COVID-19 — specifically positivity rates, deaths and hospitalizations — give reason for optimism, adding that Yale had “a chance” of moving from an orange to yellow COVID-19 alert level relatively soon.
However, Richard Martinello, medical director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health and a member of the public health committee which advises Spangler, told the News that the University had “a little ways to go” before returning to yellow alert level, which connotes “low to moderate risk.” The University transitioned from yellow to orange COVID-19 alert level, which connotes “moderate risk,” on Dec. 19.
“The risky thing are those social settings where there is not distancing and where there is not masking,” Martinello said. “Parties and bars are the bane of our existence. Restaurants aren’t too far behind. Of course, everybody wants to support our local establishments, but we want to be able to do it in a way that’s not ultimately going to create problems on campus.”
Boyd commended students for preventing an arrival outbreak, and suggested that they now shift their attention to helping avoid on-campus transmission, in particular through abiding by mask guidelines.
Yale tightened its masking policies with a Jan. 7 announcement that prohibited the use of cloth masks. Acceptable masks — which Yale considers to be those approved by the American Society of Testing and Materials — can be picked up in students’ residential college offices.
“I know that masking habits have loosened up in some communities over the break — everyone is going to need to work together to get better habits back in place,” Boyd told the News.
Looking ahead to the rest of the semester, Vermund emphasized the importance of patience as COVID-19 policies develop.
Respiratory viruses like COVID-19, Vermund explained, thrive in indoor, cool, dry air, but falter in the spring when temperatures become warmer, the air becomes more humid and people spend more time outdoors.
“I think it’s reasonable to be cautious … into March and I’m hoping that by March, rates will be exceedingly low, we’ll be coming back to normal and we may be able to unmask,” Vermund said.
Dining hall reopening has been staggered since Jan. 14.