J.R. Florez, an employee with Stephen F. Austin State University’s Residence Life Department, mists a room in Steen Hall with a hypochlorous acid

J.R. Florez, an employee with Stephen F. Austin State University’s Residence Life Department, mists a room in Steen Hall with a hypochlorous acid, a disinfecting compound the custodial staff says is safer and more effective than bleach. All residence hall rooms have been treated with the disinfectant and will have been treated twice when students return to campus in the fall.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Residence halls at Stephen F. Austin State University will open to students for the fall 2020 semester but with a sea change of new safety measures that will be continually evaluated as the global pandemic evolves.

Residence Life Department staff members have implemented extreme alterations to traditional housing upkeep in an effort to provide the safest possible college residential experience for returning students this August. These alterations include a wide array of increased sanitation measures at the 11 housing facilities available to students for the fall.

Housing also continues to be offered during the summer term, which has allowed SFA employees to evaluate and update sanitization effectiveness and communication best practices. Residence Life is currently taking applications for summer II housing.

“We are excited to welcome our students back home,” said Shea Roll, assistant director of SFA’s Residence Life. “We are connecting with students through virtual programming and social distancing events. Last week, we had an event with water balloons filled with soap, water and washable paint that the students who are on campus this summer loved! More than ever, community and connection is important to us in our halls.”

Key highlights of the new safety measurements include:

  • Each residence hall will have its own full-time custodial staff members who will clean common restrooms and other high-traffic common areas during the day and at night Monday through Friday. A limited number of full-time custodians will disinfect common restrooms and high-traffic areas and clean where needed on weekends.
  • A full-time staff member is available seven days a week from 4 p.m. to midnight to provide assistance when requested through the University Police Department.
  • Seating will be reduced in all Residence Hall common spaces, and use of community areas like kitchens will be limited.
  • Residence halls are not open to the public. Visitation privileges have been amended to allow no more than two additional people in a room or suite at any given time. In addition, both roommates have to agree to this visitation policy before guests may visit.
  • All student and professional staff members are required to wear masks. Hand sanitizer stations will be set up, and staff member desks have plastic protectors so they may safely answer resident questions.
  • Each hall has a unique 24/7 phone number residents may call if they need anything, from accidentally locking themselves out of their room to reporting signs of illness. They will always have access to a student and professional staff member on call.
  • Roommate agreements are amended to include questions about physical distancing in the rooms, sharing items, visitors and wearing masks. Residence Life staff members want to ensure students are communicating their needs to each other on day one, so these agreements help set the tone for expectations within their shared space.
  • The university also will offer single bedrooms as they become available to those currently on a waitlist for these rooms.
  • A plan also has been formed for students who might become sick, with an immediate protocol for isolation, testing and contact tracing.

Residence Hall sanitization has increased in frequency and potency. Staff members use a GenEon cleaning and disinfecting system containing a hypochlorous solution, a powerhouse cleaning system SFA makes on site at the rate of five gallons per hour.

“This solution, unlike bleach and harsh disinfectants, is safe and a non-irritant. If it gets on your skin or in your eyes, it does not burn,” explained Frank Ronzello, SFA custodial supervisor III. “Even if it is accidently ingested, it is completely harmless. It requires no PPE. It is 70 to 80 times more efficient at killing microbial pathogens than bleach.”

Hypochlorous acid also is used on food and in food service sanitation, as well as in wound care and eye care products, he added.

“We purchased the hypochlorous acid system two years ago to treat buildings if there was a flu outbreak or any other type of airborne illnesses and to treat areas with mold or mildew issues,” Roll said. “The ability to produce hypochlorous acid is something completely unique to SFA and really shows our commitment to safety. While other universities were busy purchasing hypochlorous acid, we were already producing our own.”

Custodial staff members have been using the cleaning compound in all housing facilities since the outbreak of COVID-19 to treat all high-touch-point areas before and after students come to campus.

“We also have treated every vacant room prior to our custodial employees entering the rooms to perform their summer cleaning and disinfecting,” Roll said. “We also will treat rooms after any camps and summer school and use it to treat all high-point-touch areas when students return in the fall.”

The university also announced it would be lifting the on-campus living requirement that stated incoming freshman or underclassmen with less than 60 credit hours must live in campus residence halls.

Additionally, the contract cancellation deadline was extended to midnight July 12.  Any cancellations received by that time will be refunded.

“We recognize that in this time, students may be more comfortable not living in a residence hall environment, so we want to be as considerate and as flexible as possible,” Roll said.

While prevention and regular cleaning are key, SFA employees have established staunch protocols should a case of COVID-19 be reported on campus.

“We have worked closely with SFA’s Health Services and have a plan for students who might become sick, with an immediate protocol for isolation, testing and contact tracing. We also would deliver meals to their door. A Residence Life staff member would personally call them twice daily to check on how they are doing, and the Health Clinic would hold Zoom appointments,” Roll said. “We offer Zoom counseling services to these students as well, because at no point do we want them to feel disconnected from their SFA community during isolation. The rooms we have set aside have goody bags with Gatorade, snacks and get well notes along with campus resource numbers. Our goal is to make them as comfortable as possible.”

The current move-in calendar for the fall semester is Aug. 13 through 23. Students must sign up for a two-hour move-in slot and are allowed to bring two individuals to help them with the move.

Students can access the move-in sign up through my mySFA Residence Life tab. Move-in sign up will open at noon July 9 and will remain open through Aug. 23. Students must have two emergency contacts listed in Banner prior to signing up, which can be completed through mySFA by selecting “Update Emergency Contact” on the Home tab.

“They also can change their move-in time up to 24 hours before it occurs to allow as much flexibility as possible; however, we are limiting the number of students allowed to sign up per hall, per shift to allow for social distancing,” Roll said. “When they arrive, they will receive a check-in packet with their key, student ID, helpful tips on how to stay safe on campus and instructions on how to complete an online inspection of their room so we can address any concerns they have right away.

“This one-stop move in will allow for flexibility and social distancing beginning as soon as they walk in the door,” she added. “They also will meet their community assistant, who is an upperclassmen mentor living on their floor to help them with whatever they need and to connect them with the SFA community.”

First-year students attending Jack Camp Orientation, which will be held on campus Aug. 16 through 19, will be given priority to pick move-in shifts.

Currently, approximately 3,500 students have committed to living on campus in the fall.