As the devastating COVID-19 pandemic nears its one-year anniversary, every precaution must be taken to limit transmission. Especially with thousands of students from around the world returning to Penn’s campus, the risk of illness is greater than ever.
Due to high levels of contact between food, students, and staff, dining halls are a crucial aspect of college life to be monitored. Penn established a “grab-and-go” policy where students must reserve their meal pick-up times and proceed to eat alone in their dorms or outside. But as temperatures continue to drop to below freezing, the latter is quite painful and unbearable.
As classes are virtual and students are isolated to single dorms, mealtimes are one of the only opportunities for social interaction. Especially for first-year students who are living alone for the first time and eager to make friends, human contact is crucial. This consequently leaves many students with no choice but to endure the brutal winter winds in their desperate attempt to connect with others.
While dining hall restrictions are certainly in place to keep students safe, Penn’s rules actually produce the opposite effect. Those who choose to eat outside remain unmasked and seated in large groups, so it would technically be safer if Penn provided indoor seating and monitored the number of students at each table. In fact, limited indoor dining has resumed in Philadelphia since Jan. 16, and with students getting tested twice a week, there is no reason why Penn can’t follow the same city-wide policy. Dining hall restrictions have also encouraged students to venture off-campus to indoor restaurants, increasing the risk of contracting COVID-19 and bringing it back to Penn.
As the Penn Eats app already serves as the mandatory platform to select mealtimes and order food ahead of time, students can easily follow the same process to reserve indoor seating. With thorough cleaning between reservation times and tables set six feet apart, a safe and comfortable dining experience can certainly be established. Before all dining halls are immediately overwhelmed with a new system of indoor seating, the largest and most popular locations, such as Hill House, can start slow and evaluate the outcome. Not only will this incentivize students to remain on campus, but this will also allow them to establish long-lasting bonds with their peers in a warm and enjoyable setting.
The pandemic has been difficult for all members of the Penn community, and such struggles should not be exacerbated by forcing students to eat alone, or worse, in dangerously cold temperatures. Students deserve the opportunity to dine in a safe and comfortable environment, and eating outside is anything but that.
EMILY CHANG is a College first-year student studying Sociology. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.