USCB freshman Christoph Hagenauer stands in front of the university’s administration building, where signs explain new hygiene and social distancing protocols. COURTESY USCB

Christoph Hagenauer hasn’t been at the University of South Carolina Beaufort long, but he quickly learned that face coverings are required to enter buildings on campus – just like in his native Austria. The 19-year-old arrived in the United States earlier this month excited to start his freshman year at USCB, where he has a scholarship to study computational science and will play on the golf team.

“I don’t mind wearing a mask if it makes us stay healthy,” he said. “I will do whatever the university says, out of respect.”

The midst of the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t an ideal time to begin college, but Hagenauer and the other 2,000 students who will start classes Aug. 20 join faculty and staff who have spent all summer planning how to keep them healthy.

Everything from student housing and dining to the way classrooms are set up has changed, so returning students may be in for some surprises.

New protocols emphasize masking, social distancing and enhanced hygiene. Students, staff and faculty will receive a kit containing two washable masks, hand sanitizer and a germ key, which is a device that can be used to open doors and push elevator buttons.

Learning will take place in-person, online and in a hybrid model where students attend some class sessions in person and others online. Classrooms have been modified to only about a third of their previous occupancy and seating has been spread out.

“Students will see ‘Sand Shark USCB safe seating’ decals on the chairs where they can sit,” said Dr. Kimberly Dudas, dean of USCB’s School of the Professions and co-director of the university’s Public Health Response Team.

Fortunately, USCB’s residence halls are apartment-style with individual bedrooms, no shared hallways and only two students sharing each bathroom.

“We are lucky that our housing style sets up well for social distancing,” said Justin Shelley, interim director of Housing and Judicial Affairs.

New rules limit the number of guests per apartment and require guests to register with the housing office 24 hours in advance. One residence hall has been set aside for isolation and quarantine. A new partnership with Beaufort Memorial Hospital will provide flu vaccines on the Beaufort and Bluffton campuses in early fall and telehealth services via the BMH Cares app and a kiosk on the Bluffton campus.

There will be no large gatherings this semester, but university officials in charge of student life plan to keep students connected through virtual get-togethers and outdoor activities.

Even with the limitations, students – including Hagenauer – are enthusiastic about the new school year.

“We have kind of the same rules in Austria,” he said. “From what I’ve seen so far, I’m feeling pretty confident.”

Carol Weir is interim senior director of communications at University of South Carolina Beaufort.