As organizations and schools around the world close their doors to stem the spread of COVID-19, first-year University of Minnesota Duluth student Zach Hullander wasn't surprised when he got an email Tuesday asking students to move out of campus housing by Sunday if possible.

"My roommates and I all kind of figured we'd have to leave," Hullander said. "We were OK with it. It's not something we wanted to do, but it's fine."

Hullander, who planned to transfer after the school year, said the circumstances swindled him out of all the time he thought he still had with friends, classmates and roommates.

"It’s a lot of missed goodbyes in person," Hullander said.

University of Minnesota Duluth freshman Zach Hullander of Cumberland, Wisconsin, takes his clothes out of his closet while moving out of his apartment on campus Wednesday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
University of Minnesota Duluth freshman Zach Hullander of Cumberland, Wisconsin, takes his clothes out of his closet while moving out of his apartment on campus Wednesday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Before UMD Housing sent the message out to students, Hullander's roommates had already moved out. They were just a couple of about 200 students to do so Tuesday. Students who don't have permission to stay in campus residence halls must move out by 8 p.m. Sunday.

On Monday, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel announced in a written statement that courses on all U of M campuses would continue in alternative formats for the remainder of the semester. She also called on all students who have safe living alternatives not to return to campus residence halls after the extended spring break.

The decision to ask UMD students to move out by Sunday was decided at the campus level, said UMD's director of housing and residence life, Jeremy Leiferman, who oversees the housing of about 2,800 students.

"(It) was made in light of the university's decision to shift academic instruction to alternative formats for the remainder of the semester," Leiferman said. "We wanted to create an opportunity for students and their families to come get their belongings. We were receiving a number of requests from students and their families who wanted to do that."

For students who need to remain on campus, Leiferman said they can request to stay. Exceptions could be granted to students who don't have another place to move, international students who aren't able to return to their home country as well as students who wouldn't be able to access their coursework online due to lack of internet access.

Leiferman said the campus housing staff will review the requests on an ongoing basis.

"We know that students who have submitted them are anxious to get a response and so we don't want to delay that any longer than needed," Leiferman said.

UMD is awaiting a decision from the U of M system regarding what the refund process will look like for students who have already paid for the semester for housing and on-campus dining expenses.

Kiersten Vetsch of Cumberland, Wis., helps her son Zach Hullander move out of his UMD apartment Wednesday. Beginning next week Vetsch, a teacher, can not leave Wisconsin with the risk of being quarantined for 14 days. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Kiersten Vetsch of Cumberland, Wis., helps her son Zach Hullander move out of his UMD apartment Wednesday. Beginning next week Vetsch, a teacher, can not leave Wisconsin with the risk of being quarantined for 14 days. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

While some campuses around the country have set a 24-hour deadline for students to move out of residential halls, Leiferman said UMD wanted to offer a more flexible timeline for families, in part to help prevent overcrowding.

Other campuses around the nation are allowing an extended period of time for students to move out. Harvard University, for example, announced on March 10 that students had five days to move out of dorms.

At UMD, Leiferman said the checkout process has been altered to minimize person-to-person contact, meaning students aren't required to sign anything and keys are sanitized after they're turned in.

The number of student resident assistants, or RAs, who will stay in campus housing will depend on the number of students who need to stay on campus.

With fewer students living on campus, Leiferman noted it should allow more UMD housing staff to work from and adhere to Gabel's latest COVID-19 response plan directives.

Along with asking students not to return to campus after spring break, Gabel also directed all faculty and staff to work from home if their work does not require them to be on campus.

Kayla Nelson, a sophomore and RA in Heaney Hall, was packed up and moved out by noon Wednesday.

"I'm in shock," Nelson said after packing her final belongings. "This is really bittersweet. Seeing my residents leave too, it's really odd. It's going to take some adapting, that's for sure."

Kayla Nelson of Duluth, a University of Minnesota Duluth student and resident adviser, packs her car Wednesday. “It’s extremely bittersweet,” she said of moving out. “RAs were planning events for after spring break and now everything is out the window. It’s weird not having any closure.” (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Kayla Nelson of Duluth, a University of Minnesota Duluth student and resident adviser, packs her car Wednesday. “It’s extremely bittersweet,” she said of moving out. “RAs were planning events for after spring break and now everything is out the window. It’s weird not having any closure.” (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

For Nelson, moving off campus meant hauling her belongings across town to her parents' home.

She's already looking forward to her return to campus.

"I'm already excited to start in the fall even though it's six months away right now," Nelson said.

Hannah Anderson, a junior and resident of Heaney Hall, quit her job at Dick's Sporting Goods before road-tripping across the state to her hometown of Norcross.

"All (three) of my roommates had to quit their jobs, too," Anderson said. "We don't have a source of income and we're really relying on parents and the possibility of unemployment."

Moving back to rural Minnesota, where the nearest town is 1,000, Anderson's not hopeful she'll find work there, especially during trying times.

Anderson said her brother drove up Tuesday night to help her move out. Even if the university didn't ask students to move, she planned on going home eventually.

"It's just healthier at home," Anderson said, adding that not everyone has parents or family available to help them move home.

"It's overwhelming for me and I had help," Anderson said.

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