After being restricted to online learning for a year, many college students from Sammamish will finally start going to college in-person this fall.
As colleges reopen, students are eager to experience campus life. However, some are also weary about the risk of COVID-19 infection, especially with the highly contagious Delta variant causing a new surge of cases across the U.S.
For UCLA sophomore Victoria Raggi, 19, the virus is especially scary because she is asthmatic, which increases her risk for severe illness.
Raggi said that her parents were reluctant to let her attend in person a few months back, but they have “become comforted now that UCLA is requiring the vaccination and masks indoors.”
At UCLA, those who are exempt from the vaccine must take a COVID test at least once a week. To socially distance, large lectures will be held remotely. UCLA is also requiring a daily symptom check through a five-minute online survey.
Similarly, 18-year-old Meghna Pulacode, a freshman at UC San Diego, said that she and her parents were relieved after her university mandated vaccines and implemented social distancing measures. She thinks the school is “doing a really good job” implementing COVID measures, including outdoor classes and online classes for those with a large number of students.
Pulacode is already vaccinated and plans to stay safe by wearing a mask and keeping her distance during larger events. She is looking forward to exploring California and living in a dorm for the first time.
Although vaccines have given students a greater sense of safety, many still worry that risky behavior from their peers, such as partying and attending large social gatherings, might cause a COVID outbreak that could restrict student activities or even shut down campuses again.
University of Washington (UW) student Leela Ranganathan, 19, said she is concerned about an outbreak from the Delta variant, as well from future variants that could reduce the efficacy of current vaccines. UW is not enforcing social distancing, and only recommends that students wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status. As of now, autumn quarter classes and student activities will mainly be in-person. Dorms are also operating at full capacity.
Ranganathan said that she is somewhat comforted by her university’s vaccine mandate, its constant monitoring of cases on campus and its strong involvement in the latest COVID-19 research.
Although vaccine mandates have reassured many students, they have also been met with some controversy.
Raggi said her mother, who is active on a Facebook group for UCLA, saw many complaints from parents about the vaccine mandate. While there was pushback from some, Raggi is thankful that UCLA did not flinch, and has so far kept the mandate in place.
However, not all colleges can require their students to get the vaccine, as some states have banned public institutions from imposing such a mandate.
That applies to the state of Utah, which has made vaccine mandates illegal in public schools. Elly LaMonte, 18, a freshman at the University of Utah, said that her campus can only encourage students to get vaccinated. One way they do this is by having free vaccination clinics on school grounds.
The University of Utah is also using a hybrid model to build in more social distance between students. For example, LaMonte has three classes in-person and two classes online.
Some big events, such as new student orientation, were moved online as well.
LaMonte, who is vaccinated, is aware that many of the students on campus will likely not be. So she will be taking her own measures, such as wearing a mask and avoiding large gatherings.
Amid all of this uncertainty from these students was a hope for a normal college experience. Raggi said she appreciates UCLA’s effort to create a sense of normalcy, especially since she missed out on the regular college experience last year as a freshman while living at home and taking classes online.
“It was basically the same as the end of my senior year,” Raggi said.
Besides living in a new state and enjoying warmer, sunnier weather, she is simply looking forward to meeting new people and having casual conversations with classmates.
For many of these students, the vaccine has given them hope. They see college as an important stage of life, and want to experience campus life in-person. But cases caused by the Delta variant are spiking again across the country, and these students are not under any illusions as they start a new school year and enter the unknown.