Brandon Shillingford, Capital News Service
Students returning to campus this fall will find vending machines stocked full of snacks, sodas, and now personal protective equipment too.
The machines located throughout Richmond-based Virginia Commonwealth University are filled with masks and hand sanitizer and soon, wipes. The supplies are available to students and employees for free, with a once a month limit. Individuals choose what they need and swipe their VCUCard to dispense a product.
VCU officials said they started planning preventative measures months ago to help keep students safe.
“In March, we started out at ground zero,” said Richard Sliwoski, associate vice president of facilities management at VCU. “We had to get things here to make sure we could get folks on campus safely.”
The first solution was to hand out starter supply kits with masks, hand sanitizer and wipes. The university’s next question was what to do when the kits became empty.
VCU then contacted W.W. Grainger Inc., an industrial supply company with vending machines already on campus, about acquiring more machines for masks and hand sanitizer. The process was easy since the university already has a contract with the Lake Forest, Illinois-based company, Sliwoski said.
“There is no cost to us for the machines,” Sliwoski said. “They provide all our parts for all of the fixes, faucets, whatever, we source it through them.”
Out of a handful of Virginia colleges CNS contacted, only George Mason University confirmed by publication that it also dispenses masks and sanitizer through vending machines. But across the nation, other universities are adding such vending to campuses, as are airports and cities.
Students at VCU said they were pleased with the new machines but questioned how effective they can be if no one knows about them.
“I’m glad they have these as an extra option for those who are running out of hand sanitizer and stuff because it’s clear they have plenty,” said VCU junior Travis Krickovic. “It’s a really good measure to just make sure everyone has the PPE they need, I’m just wondering and really hope everyone knows about it.”
VCU freshman Mary Dorra appreciates the efforts the university is taking but wonders if more safety practices are needed to keep students safe.
“It makes me feel safer. I’m not sure if it’s enough but at this point I don’t really know what else you can do,” she said about the new machines. “You could do more temperature checks outside of classes and things like that but even then you could be asymptomatic, so that might not do much.”
There are 10 machines at VCU. Five are located on the Medical College of Virginia Campus in the Tompkins-McCaw Library and the Mcguire Hall and Annex, and the Hunton, Larrick and McGlothlin Medical Education centers. The other five reside on the Monroe Park Campus in Snead Hall, the T. Edward Temple Building, James Branch Cabell Library, VCU Student Commons, and the Bowe Street Parking Deck.
Grainger said it provides the machines as part of a wider agreement with VCU but did not disclose the contract amount when asked.
VCU also has put tape or signs on seats to diminish capacity in dining areas to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Common spaces also indicate where to stand in line or sit at a table.
As of Thursday, there are 97 active cases of COVID-19 at VCU, according to the university’s dashboard. The university is reporting 49 new cases this week and 191 total.