Jahnaezha McFadden had packed everything she needed for spring break.
She stuffed a bag with enough clothes, shoes and toiletries to last her a week. But two days before she was set to get on a bus home to Orlando on March 13, the spread of the coronavirus prompted Florida State University officials to ask students to pack for an extra two weeks.
“I borrowed my suitemate’s biggest suitcase and packed up my entire closet just in case,” McFadden said, noting that university officials also told students to bring their books, binders and school material because they would be distance learning the two weeks following spring break.
Before the three weeks could pass, Gov. Ron DeSantis had ordered universities to remain closed for the rest of the school year to try to slow the spread of the virus.
“I still have all of my stuff in the fridge. Snacks in drawers. I still have a trunk with clothes under my bed. I still have a lot of stuff there,” McFadden said last week in an interview with The News Service of Florida.
The 18-year-old freshman is among many Florida university students who are trying to retrieve belongings left behind in dorm rooms when they left for spring break while expecting to be back before the end of the spring semester.
Universities across the state will allow students to have items delivered to them or return to campus at a safe time to pick up belongings. Some universities are even preparing to dispose of unwanted items at the students’ request.
“This is one of the most unique circumstances I’ve dealt with. I have dealt with lots of emergencies in my career, things like earthquakes and fires and floods, and various student crises, but this pandemic is a new one on me,” said Ana Hernandez, assistant vice president of housing and residential education at the University of South Florida.
It’s as though time stood still in most of the university’s dorm rooms, Hernandez said.
“Like someone went to class and didn’t come back,” Hernandez said, noting that “all sorts of things” were left behind, including trash and perishable foods, which she said could become a problem if not cleaned up.
“We're going building by building, space by space, trying to remove only the items that are essential to remove at this time,” she said, stressing that university staff members will not snoop around students’ belongings.
Hernandez said staff members have worked quickly to reunite students with “critical” forgotten items, like medication or other valuables. And in some cases, the Tampa-based school is also prepared to take requests for tossing things out.
“If they make the judgment call that it's not worth either the risk (to travel) in their mind or the effort to return to campus for minimal items that remain, then we are prepared to dispose of those items and will not be requiring them to return,” she said.
At Florida State University, students have the option for United Parcel Service to pack and ship belongings through May 31, university officials said in an advisory posted on the school’s website.
“Shipping will occur as rooms are packed. Students will receive items within the standard shipping schedule,” the Tallahassee-based university’s guidelines say.
McFadden said she does not like the idea of having a stranger pack and go through her dorm, so she is using FSU’s second option, which allows her to schedule a time to return to campus to pack up everything.
When McFadden comes back to her dorm, the university will require her – and all students and helpers who come back to pick things up – to use gloves and face masks during the move-out process.
“As the health and safety of all involved is our top priority, only two students will be allowed on a floor at a time to remove their belongings, therefore this process will take approximately eight weeks (between June 1 and July 31) to accomplish,” FSU officials said on the school’s website.
McFadden has not been given a date to come back to campus. But she is eager to get back the clothes she left behind and the Amazon TV Fire Stick she uses to watch some of her favorite shows, like S.W.A.T. and Chicago Fire.
As she waits to hear when she will be allowed to come back, she hopes it can be on a weekend.
“My mom works overnight, and my dad works during the day, so if I am given like a middle-week day, it’d be kind of hard,” she said. “But we’re trying to work it out where my older brothers can take me. We may rent a van so we can pack things up and just do it as quickly as possible.”
McFadden said she is not “too nervous” about being exposed to the virus while moving out of her dorm.
“I feel like there is an aspect where you can’t really control much, so we are just trying to be safe while we are out there, so that when we come back we don’t bring anything to my brothers, my mom, my dad or my little siblings,” she said.
Screenshot via UCF Housing/YouTube
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