Handled With Care

Mandatory facemasks and social distancing give Notre Dame students and families quite a moving experience.

Author: Margaret Fosmoe ’85

Moveout1 Photo by Matt Cashore ’94

On Sunday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, Abby Kiernan and classmate Adriana Pérez were loading boxes into an SUV parked behind Farley Hall.

They were wearing facemasks. Abby’s mom, Kristy Kiernan, also in a facemask, checked the time. They had a total of four hours to move Abby and Adriana’s belongings out of the residence hall and depart. “We have an hour and 40 minutes left,” Kristy said. “I think we’ll be fine.”

From left, students Adriana Pérez and Abby Kiernan, with Abby’s mom, Kristy Kiernan, moving out of Farley Hall. Photo by Margaret Fosmoe ’85

It was anything but the usual Memorial Day holiday weekend at Notre Dame.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Notre Dame administrators on March 11 announced that all in-person classes were suspended and classes would shift online. At the time, students were on spring break and encouraged to travel directly to their family homes, which meant most of their belongings remained in their dorm rooms. In the age of COVID-19, Kristy and Abby Kiernan drove 13-plus hours — 880 miles — from their home in Fairhope, Alabama, to remove Abby’s belongings from her residence hall room.

The University in early May notified students of procedures to move their belongings out of the residence halls. The process began May 22 and will continue for three weeks, including weekends. It’s designed to provide for an orderly move out and to maximize social distancing to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

The University is providing free boxes and bags for those moving out. “It’s made it so much easier,” Kristy Kiernan said.


Campus parking lots provide the staging areas. Students and their family members pull into designated check-in lanes specifying individual residence halls. Employees greet the arrivals. At the scheduled appointment time, each vehicle is allowed to proceed to the residence hall, parking far enough away from others to ensure social distancing.

Employees overseeing the process are required to wear facemasks. In some residence halls, corridor windows are wide open to offer extra ventilation. The appointments are scheduled to allow for cleaning of high-touch surfaces each day in the halls, and to avoid students in the same room moving out during the same appointment window.


By the afternoon of Wednesday, May 27, about 2,100 students had moved out. Between 4,500 and 5,000 students in total are expected to participate in the move out before the process is complete. About 700 students chose to have a private company handle their move out and storage. More than 130 university employees, many of them volunteers, are helping to coordinate the process each day.

Adriana Pérez, who is from Ecuador, had been staying with a friend in Washington, D.C. since the shift to online classes in March. She was going with the Kiernans to stay with them in Alabama until June 7. That’s when she hopes flights to Ecuador (halted because of the virus) will resume, and she can return to her family.

The two young women, both rising juniors, are glad Notre Dame has announced a plan to resume in-person classes in early August, with no fall break and the semester ending by Thanksgiving.  “I think the plan is really smart,” Abby Kiernan said. “It offers the best chance of success.”

Normally in late May, campus residence halls are vacant and locked. It’s the spring quiet time, after Commencement and before the summer class session starts in early June. But nothing is like usual this year.

On Tuesday May 26, rising sophomore Nola Quinn was moving out of Walsh Hall with help from her dad, Mike Quinn ’85. The two flew from their home in Boston to Chicago, then drove a rental SUV to South Bend for Nola’s scheduled move-out day.

The flight went pretty well amid worries about travel during the pandemic. “There were 60 people on a plane with 180 seats,” Nola said.

Moving out went smoothly. The low number of people allowed in the dorm at one time made it go quickly, Nola said. Once finished, the Quinns were going to drive Nola’s belongings to a storage facility, then head to Chicago for the flight home to Boston.

On the same day, two recent graduates stood on the steps of the Main Building in caps and gowns, posing for photographs as a visual reminder of the virtual degree conferral ceremony that took place the week before.

Amid the strangeness of campus right now, there are some reminders of what Notre Dame is like in ordinary times: Two students practicing their volleyball moves with a ball on the lawn by Columba Hall. A young mother pushing her baby in a stroller along the sidewalk to the Grotto. Construction workers finishing work on the new Corby Hall.

The campus remains mostly vacant, however. About half the people seen on campus sidewalks wear facemasks. Signs on campus buildings carry this reminder: “ALL ND Back Together: Mask required for entrance.”

The Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore is open again, with its front doors wide open to let in fresh air. Large signs instruct bookstore shoppers to enter through the left door and exit through the right door. Piles of The Shirt 2020 are neatly stacked on tables, although it hasn’t been decided yet whether COVID19 will permit college football to proceed this fall. Facemasks are mandatory inside the bookstore, where additional signs remind visitors of the need for social distancing.

Margaret Fosmoe is an associate editor of this magazine.