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Coronavirus Pandemic Changes Campus Life At St. Louis University

Masked St. Louis University students walk across the crosswalk on Father Biondi SJ Way on Monday, Aug. 17.
Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
Masked St. Louis University students walk across the crosswalk on Father Biondi SJ Way on Monday.

Deepali Manikonda’s temperature Monday morning was 98.6.

The St. Louis University freshman is one of more than 1,500 students whose new routine includes recording daily temperatures and self-monitoring for coronavirus symptoms. This year, SLU requires students to wear face masks while on campus.

SLU, which began classes on Monday, is one of the first colleges in the region to welcome students. Administrators planned for a hybrid class structure, mixing in-person and virtual classes to help keep the virus from spreading. Only one-fourth of classes at SLU are completely online.

Other schools that started Monday include McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois; Missouri Baptist University and St. Charles Community College. Most St. Louis-area colleges plan to bring students back to campus next week.

Although students and administrators are trying to maintain a sense of normalcy, the pandemic has altered campus life, including the typical freshman experience.

Manikonda, who plans to study neuroscience, said the pandemic only added to her first-day jitters.

“Oh, there’s a lot of anxiety,” the Chicago native said. “Just like having to maintain a good GPA and having to go to office hours over Zoom, instead of in person.”

SLU requires freshmen to move onto campus, but this semester students could request an exemption, which included coronavirus-related health concerns.

“This is almost like an experiment that we are watching unfold,” said Manikonda’s mother, Dolly Devara.

Freshman Deepali Mannikonda pushes the crosswalk button to pass through Father Biondi SJ Way on Monday, Aug. 17.
Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
Freshman Deepali Manikonda pushes the crosswalk button to pass through Father Biondi SJ Way on Monday.

SLU tested all residential students before move-in last week. A university spokesperson did not confirm how many students tested positive, if any. Testing will be widely available throughout the semester for both residential and commuter students, university officials said.

SLU is one of the few universities in the St. Louis region that has the capacity to test its students for the coronavirus on campus. Other school administrators have said they do not have the capacity to test on campus and will have to rely on local health departments for testing.

Even with the precautions, Devara said she would have preferred for her daughter to stay home.

If Manikonda and her three roommates develop coronavirus-related symptoms, Devara said she is concerned they might not have the room to quarantine separately. SLU has established safeguards that include 150 beds for isolation housing.

Devara said she plans to call her daughter every day to check on her health, just not during class.

Most of Manikonda’s classes are in person, including a chemistry lecture with over 100 socially distanced students.

In a July survey, a majority of SLU students said they wanted to return to in-person classes, Interim Provost Michael Lewis said. During the past three months, Lewis said university staff developed policies to deliver a socially distanced education.

Since SLU’s freshman orientation was online, Ben Sloan chose in-person classes to meet more people, despite social distancing hurdles.

“Whenever people are spaced out, it’s harder to connect with people, and that to me has been the hardest thing,” said Sloan, of Indiana. “Just 'cause you’re not seeing them face to face. It’s almost like everyone has to stay in their own little bubble.”

Sloan and Manikonda say they will adjust to the new normal over time.

Most St. Louis-area universities plan to start in-person and virtual classes next week. This includes Washington University, Harris-Stowe State University and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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