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University plans to return students back to campus in the fall semester

(Photo courtesy of  Umass Lowell) As of right now, students and professors are considered a part of the general population, which is on track to be able to book appointments for vaccinations starting sometime in April.

Lilian Birch
Connector Contributor

With the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines becoming more common across Massachusetts, there are some concerns of how it will affect the student population. As of right now, students and professors are considered a part of the general population, which is on track to be able to book appointments starting sometime in April. This means that vaccinations will likely be an option for students when the fall semester approaches.

Currently the city of Lowell is running a vaccination program at the Lowell General Hospital, which is located only a few minutes away from UMass Lowell’s North Campus. They are currently providing vaccines to eligible groups by appointment, but the brand given depends on daily availability.

There is already a collaboration between UMass Lowell and the hospital in regards to the vaccination clinic. Through the College of Health Sciences, nursing students have been volunteering at the clinic, performing different tasks and gaining in-person experience. This opens a path for potential future collaborations in getting vaccinations for the student population.

Many students are nervous about returning to campus without the vaccine.

“Getting the vaccine before school will give me more peace of mind because I will have an extra layer of protection to keep me safe from the harms and threats of COVID,” said Robert Gerardi, a junior biomedical engineering major.

His viewpoint is shared among many of his peers who are nervous about returning to campus in the fall. Even so, there is some excitement about rejoining the UMass Lowell community and getting back to in-person classes. Students are eager to know about the plans for returning to campus.

On March 18, UMass Lowell announced in an email from Dr. Joseph Hartman, the provost and vice chancellor for Academic & Student Affairs, that the university plans to return to full on-campus operations for the fall 2021 semester. Due to the nature of the pandemic, it is hard to predict what the fall semester will look like, but there are still some things that the university community can rely on looking forward.

Hartman said he expects that there will be some similarities to pre-COVID days, with protocols in place to keep the population safe.

“We will continue to adhere to national and state public health guidance in place, if any, come September,” said Hartman. “While campus operations may not look identical to 2019 when the semester begins, university services ranging from student activities and the Rec Center to research and dining will all be finalizing and posting plans on the UMass Lowell website in the coming months to move as close to normal as possible.”

Hartman also elaborated on some of the precautions UMass Lowell plans to take to help the university return to normal while still remaining COVID safe.

Hartman said, “We are going to be distanced [and] we’re going to have the classroom set up in a safe manner. So you put all these layered effects together and have an environment where people can focus on learning and, frankly, have a vibrant campus life again.”

Students will have access to regular testing, regardless of the vaccine, as a part of the protocols to protect the health of the university community. Additionally, students will be expected to always wear masks when in public spaces as a part of maintaining a safe and clean space on campus.

The university is working to create an environment that students will be eager to return to and feel safe doing so. There is hope that the vaccine will play a role in the return to campus, but the university is prepared to continue without this factor as well. UMass Lowell is excited to have students back and is hopeful that students share the same feelings.

As UMass Lowell prepares the campus for the return of in-person classes in the fall, there are measures students can take to help support the university’s planning process. As of right now, students can arrange their living situations via the student housing portal which is now open. Students can also register for classes beginning April 4.

Hartman asks that students do their part to make admirations decisions easier.

Hartman said, “I think it is important for students, if they can, [to] register and get their schedules set early because that gives us more information, if at all possible. and the sooner we have that kind of information the better. Same thing with students coming back on campus in the dorms.”

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