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UNG student services still operational despite COVID-19 closures
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UNG's student counseling is one of the student services operating remotely despite the COVID-19 closures. (photo courtesy of the University of North Georgia)

With the recent closures due to COVID-19, all Georgia public universities have been closed for the remainder of the semester, with students completing their coursework completely remotely online. 

But despite the campus closures, student services at the University of North Georgia are finding ways to remain in operation and to serve the school’s students.

One of those services is UNG’s remote student counseling service.

Dr. Simon Cordery, director of Student Counseling at UNG, explained that since the virus has caused the campuses to close, the university has been able to implement a predominantly video tele-mental health model. 

“We use a HIPAA-compliant encrypted software, so it’s super private and that allows us to do face-to-face sessions through video,” Cordery said. “Because of the COVID-19 being uncharted territory, we’re trying to provide almost all our services through this tele-mental health capability.”

But in mental health situations, there are clients who are appropriate for video sessions and those who aren’t. According to Cordery, these clients are accommodated accordingly.

“The people we need to see in person are going to be those people who are suicidal, self-injuring or really struggling with substance abuse,” she said. “So, we either see them in person or help them get connected with resources in their community at home.”

Counseling staff have reported that students are responding to the new format, and clients have even been opening up more in their sessions.

“A lot of people are going deeper in their sessions and we’re thinking that might be because they feel comfortable in their own environment,” Cordery said. “And we’re also addressing a lot more issues with anxiety due to COVID-19, so we’re helping to put fear in perspective there.” 

Heather Holdridge is a senior political science major at UNG and has been utilizing student counseling services for about a year, including during the changes due to the virus. 

“I’ve been going to the same student counselor and I can’t imagine going through this strenuous time without her,” Holdridge said. “She has sent me emails to check up on me, sent me articles relevant to my struggles, and has never cancelled an appointment on me.”

The student counseling services remaining in operation during the COVID-19 crisis has helped students like Holdridge maintain a sense of normalcy.

“She reminds me that I have gone through so much already and that I will get through this too,” Holdridge said. “These counselors are here for students, so we’ll get through this unprecedented time together.”

Another campus service still in operation during the virus is student health. Based on guidelines from the CDC as well as the University System of Georgia, health services have decreased their operational hours but is still open to serve students. 

“We normally take walk-ins but we’re asking students to call to make an appointment so we can try to stagger the number of students that may be here at the same time,” said Karen Tomlinson, director of Student Health Services at UNG. 

Student Health Services has also been able to test for COVID-19 and has come up with safety guidelines to do so.

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Student health services at UNG have stayed open to serve students while also exercising social distancing precautions with their patients. (photo courtesy of the University of North Georgia)

“We’ve been fortunate enough to have testing materials, and all of our tests have come back negative,” Tomlinson said. “If someone calls with COVID-19 symptoms, we have one of our clinicians - completely in PPE - meet them outside and give them a mask, and then we put them right in an examination room so that clinician is the sole person exposed to that patient.”

Student Health Services are also helping by calling in prescriptions for students they already have a provider-patient relationship with. 

“We also normally don’t treat chronic conditions, but we’re realizing that it’s hard for people to get in to see their physicians,” Tomlinson said. “So, if we have a student call who needs thyroid medication or blood pressure medication or something like that, we’re actually calling that in so they can maintain their daily medication until they can get in to see their physician.”

A third service on campus which has been operating, despite the closures, is campus recreation and wellness. In the absence of a normal schedule, UNG has been making the most of social media to engage students.

Meri-Leigh Smith, associate director of campus recreation and wellness, said that each department is hosting online interactions through social media.

“Our Wellness and Fitness Team is doing different themed days every week,” Smith said. 

These themed days include fitness tips, trivia questions and fun facts, designed to engage more and more students of the university.

The facilities team is posting senior highlights and giving different facts about the facility, and the outdoor pursuits team giving tips on how to stay active outside while still practicing social distancing.

The intramural sports program is offering E-sports, with different tournaments students can participate in virtually together. 

“There is also a quarantine bowl that is on a nationwide level, where students can log in and engage in trivia with other students across the nation.” Smith said.

According to Tomlinson, the goal of all the UNG services is to make sure students know that their university is there for them even in the middle of all the changes due to the virus.

“We just want students to know that a lot of people from UNG are working remotely, but they’re still working and don’t want students to feel alone,” Tomlinson said. “There are so many people at UNG that are here to help them succeed, and truly the university has all these people with resources out there that students just need to reach out and somebody will help them or get them to someone who can.”