Germ/virus plus a college student results in a question for everyone involved

COVID-19, no vaccine and college campuses: is reopening the safest thing colleges can do?

By Sam Searles
KTSW Guest Writer

The presence of COVID-19, shuttering of campuses and online coursework in March through May have led to the question on every college student’s mind: when is it safe to return to campus?

With the thought of college campuses beginning to reopen come the fall semester, the Center for Disease Control released their updated considerations on how institutions of higher learning should move forward for the fall semester and beyond.

They mention as the guiding principle for every institution to keep in mind that “the more an individual interacts with others, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.”

When colleges closed down in March, every student and faculty member involved in higher learning scrambled to continue the teaching of classes and some form of scholastic normality online.

interviewee Ellie McDonald sitting and smiling in a park
A photo of interviewee Ellie McDonald. Image provided by Ellie McDonald.

Ellie McDonald, an undergraduate student of computer information technology at Minnesota State University Mankato, felt everything was rushed and the transition to online learning didn’t go as planned.

“The hardest thing for me was my professors assuring me it was going to be easier…but that was a lie,” said McDonald. “I’m happy with my overall grades, but it definitely wasn’t ideal.”

There is an underlying fear in a lot of students’ minds that if college campuses are to resume in-person lectures and classes, the campus will have to shut down again shortly after.

interviewee Ink Daw smiling for a selfie he took
A photo of interviewee Ink Daw. Image provided by Ink Daw.

Ink Daw, a master’s student of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas, echoed this thought and the unease regarding students returning to campus again.

“I feel like (campus) will shut down again,” said Daw. “It won’t be open for the rest of the semester – six weeks, the campus will be open and then the other ten will be shut down.”

Many universities, the University of Texas at Dallas included, have plans set in place to begin in-person instruction to get the student body back on campus.

interviewee James Mulhern smiling for a selfie he took
A photo of interviewee James Mulhern. Image provided by James Mulhern.

In light of the rush to go back to campus and return to the normality that was pre-COVID-19, many students hold the same opinion that James Mulhern, a master’s student of physics at the University of Texas at Dallas, believes.

“I think closing down campus is really the only thing they can do,” said Mulhern. “That’s all they can really do other than stop pretending that reopening is a viable option without a vaccine.”

interviewee Lindsey Rayborn smiling for a selfie she took
A photo of interviewee Lindsey Rayborn. Image provided by Lindsay Rayborn.

Although these concerns seem very one-sided and shared only within the U.S., across the border in Vancouver, British Columbia, Ph.D. student of geophysics at the University of British Columbia, Lindsey Rayborn, shares many of the same worries and fears amid the impending semester.

“My teacher assisting (job) will take a hit,” said Rayborn. “I don’t know a lot of what’s going to happen, so there’s a lot of uncertainty there.”

Not only do schools have to take into consideration the potential future of in-person instruction, but the pandemic has put a large amount of strain and tension on those like Daw and Mulhern who must complete lab work for their graduate programs.

With limited amounts of people being allowed in a room at a time, this puts completing lab work in jeopardy.

“My focus is lab work, so it puts a strain on my degree program,” said Mulhern. “I think it’ll put a pretty big delay on lab work.”

At the University of Texas at Dallas, labs will begin to open along with the campus, but with a limited schedule as well as allowing only a certain amount of people in a lab at a time per day.

“They declare how much time to do an experiment and you only have one shot to do it, so any mess up and you have to re-do the entire time schedule and experiment,” said Daw.

Even with the frustration, confusion and fears regarding reopening college campuses come fall, without the presence of a vaccine for the virus the resounding answer regarding if this course of action is safe to do so is “no” among the students asked.

Featured image by Sam Searles via Canva.

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