By Jessica Watkins
They stand quietly at corners and doorways, watching students pass by throughout the week. They are mechanical drones, pumping out germ-annihilating foam for whoever decides to wiggle their hand beneath the sensitive motion detector.
Forty of these Purell hand sanitizer stations have stood on the Bryn Mawr campus in locations such as dining halls and the thresholds of libraries and dormitories since the beginning of the fall semester. Haverford College has also installed brand new Purell stations throughout campus to encourage good hygiene, even putting miniature hand sanitizers in the freshman orientation “goodie bags” as a gentle reminder.
‘Tis the season of H1N1 and other nasty diseases. Dr. Kay Kerr, Director of Student Health Services at Bryn Mawr, says the average college student gets five upper respiratory infections per year—and colleges across the country have been hit hard.
Hence the push for Purell.
“We’ve tried to push the information,” said Kerr with a defeated shrug, “[infections are] one of those things that it’s almost impossible to protect yourself from.”
Many students at Bryn Mawr and Haverford have already realized this, and, much to the dismay of the Health Center staff at both campuses, have not increased their use of hand sanitizer during the daily rush from class to the library to the dorm room.
Haverford freshman Christopher Lake, 19, is one of the students who think soap is enough. He hasn’t taken advantage of the tiny hand sanitizer provided in the freshman orientation welcome bags.
"I just wash my hands,” Lake said. “But I haven’t been washing my hands any more than I used to.”
He is one of the hundreds of students who pass by the motion-sensitive Purell stations every day without as much as a glance or second thought.
Victoria Lopez, 18, is a Bryn Mawr freshman who also lives blissfully unafraid of H1N1, much less the other germs floating around campus.
“I wash my hands when I go to the bathroom and before I eat, but I’ve always done that,” she said.
After a little more thought, she reached a conclusion and shrugged.
“I’m just not worried about getting sick,” she said.
With a hand sanitizer station in each Bryn Mawr building, as well as a dispenser on the Blue Bus, one would think it’s a little hard for students to stray from this world of cleanliness—but then one would be wrong.
Don Abramowitz, Environmental Health and Safety Officer at Bryn Mawr, is responsible for overseeing the maintenance of all 40 of the college’s sanitizer stations.
“We didn’t feel the need to blanket the campus with these things,” he said.
Since the beginning of the fall semester there have been no requests to refill any of the sanitizing stations, and Abramowitz said that none of the machines looked empty after the last informal maintenance survey.
“Each dispenser holds one liter of hand sanitizer,” he said, counting on his fingers. “Which means each machine holds…400 to 500 dispensings.”
This can only mean one thing—students are not using as much hand sanitizer as was originally planned for them to use.
Abramowitz is not shocked by this fact. “It wasn’t meant to be a critical banner between life and death,” he said, “just an enhancement.”
The lack of Purell use doesn’t mean students are not trying to ward off sickness in other ways, as Denise Romano, Director of Housekeeping at Bryn Mawr, has seen personally.
According to Romano, paper towels—a new addition to Bryn Mawr’s dorm bathrooms—have been used in “incredible amounts” since the beginning of this year.
“So far we’ve ordered 15-20 percent more hand soap,” she said, meaning more students have been washing their hands instead of using the designated Purell dispensers.
It seems that students already know the importance of the foam soap in the bathrooms (also a new addition, because “foam lasts longer than gel soap,” according to Romano), but the Health Center likes to drop reminders just in case.
Students can find a friendly flyer on the back of most bathroom stalls reminding them to wash hands thoroughly and “Cover Your Cough!” to avoid the spread of unwanted germs.
“I think there’s great community awareness of the stuff out there that people could be using,” said Catherine Sharbaugh, Director of Student Health Services at Haverford. “I think people are responding and doing something about it.”