(Photo Courtesy of UMass Lowell)
The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the lives of many students last year. There was uncertainty that came with adjusting to the new situation. People around the world were upset and held back from their professional and personal pursuits. Yet, after a year and some months of the pandemic, people are preparing to get back to normal.
While UMass Lowell has used safe approaches and positivity to combat this challenging period, people are not leaving enough time for recovery in their haste for normalcy. If every student were allowed back on campus with minimal safety protocols, an outbreak could still occur, especially if there are students who are careless and do not know the university’s guidelines. There’s always a risk involved, and UMass Lowell needs to take extra steps by establishing some more effective rules.
I believe that UMass Lowell should have students return to campus slowly. Having students return at full capacity in the upcoming fall semester does not seem worth it to me. Having a more gradual transition lessens the possibility of an outbreak in the university and allows a few students to get the chance to explore the campuses. Most importantly, students would be in a safer and calmer environment.
I also think that it is harder to conduct classes virtually if class materials or assignments require in-person work and instruction, such as science courses with labs. Without a doubt, students who require equipment or tools should continue to get the school’s support and be prioritized for in-person classes.
To ensure the safety of incoming students in the fall 2021 semester, I would encourage UMass Lowell to take several steps. The university should keep desks and seats well-spaced out, maintain a sufficient supply of disinfectant wipes and continuously encourage or enforce mask wearing.
The school should also come up with new approaches for addressing COVID-19. Creating signs and putting them around the university would be helpful, as well as constantly updating and reminding students about the virus through social media. In addition, students should be able to take COVID-19 tests if they are having any symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath. Even requiring students to complete short surveys every two weeks could help keep the university updated on the physical and mental conditions of the UMass Lowell community.
In the meantime, in-person activities are something that can wait until the pandemic goes away. Giving students the chance to learn in-person should be prioritized over socializing for extended periods of time. Not only that, but students would be spread out in a structured classroom rather than being in an uncontrolled area for an unknown duration of time. How the university chooses to manage students in-person will dictate whether we are ready to get back to normal again.
While there are some students who feel ready to get back to on-campus learning, others deal with great anxiety regarding the transition. Personally, I feel traumatized by the pandemic, which I am slowly starting to notice as the days pass. Even seeing an actor in a film without a mask shocks me, but then I realize that the movie was filmed pre-pandemic. When I see people without masks in reality, I cannot help but stop and take a few steps back. Maintaining my distance and not speaking to people seems right, though it was not before the pandemic.
To ease the anxiety for students like me, UMass Lowell should make in-person classes an option, not a requirement, for another school year. Students should not feel the need to attend in-person classes if they are suffering mentally or if they are still trying to adjust to the post-COVID-19 world. On top of that, virtual classes should be continued to accommodate anxious students. I think that maintaining virtual classes and activities will benefit everyone if another unfortunate issue occurs.
However, many people have gone through financial hardships in the past year due to the closing of the university, so reopening UMass Lowell would present more opportunities for people to work. Of course, less people on campus is optimal but closing restaurants or small stores on campus is not the greatest option either. There should be a balance or alternation of open businesses on campus. University staff could cover and exchange different work shifts after deciding on the safety procedures they would like to have in place.
Many people are already getting vaccinated, and that is wonderful, but there are still people who are not. By the fall, I would still not have high hopes for everyone being vaccinated because of its high demand. Before the public and media promote society returning to how things were, people should realize that the process comes in stages.
Additionally, getting vaccinated does not mean that you should not be wearing a mask or using hand sanitizer anymore. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), using several tools are effective and offers the most protection. Safety procedures and vaccinations are people’s best options. Depending on the vaccine alone could be risky. Believing that the vaccine alone could protect one from the virus is one of the huge misconceptions and confusing parts about returning to normal with COVID-19 vaccines.
A vaccine is not a cure and students should not treat it as such. The CDC stated that they are not sure how long COVID-19 vaccines will protect people from the virus because they are still learning how to fight it. We all need to slow down and return to normalcy in a more gradual way.