By: Angelie Roche
It has now been a year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and many college students have been itching to “get back to normal.” Others cannot even define what “normal” is, having spent their senior year of high school and/or freshman year of college entirely on Zoom. In light of vaccine availability, St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) announced in May that the school would return to being entirely in-person; however, masks would still be required indoors. At that point, it seemed as if the end of the pandemic was in sight; many students left for summer break expecting to come back to the St. Mary’s they left behind in March of 2020.
Over the summer, the coronavirus situation changed yet again. Though the vaccine became widely available to the US public, a number of people were hesitant to get it. As vaccine progress slowed, the more contagious delta variant surged. Still, SMCM had a plan – those who were not vaccinated needed an exemption and are now being tested 2 or 3 times a week via a “walk-through” testing window at the Wellness Center. At the beginning of the semester, the COVID-19 Dashboard introduced a “vaccination rate” statistic—since August 30, it has risen from 83% to 95%. This is a statistic that encompasses all faculty, staff and students, and it has been a source of hope for many.
However, as of Sept. 17, there are five active cases on campus and two isolation beds in use. Anonymous sources told The Point News that at least one of the cases is an unvaccinated person, who is currently using an isolation ward. According to our sources, two of the other cases attended an off-campus concert where no masks were worn, but they are allegedly vaccinated. Last year when restrictions were heightened and the vaccine was not yet available, the highest number of cases SMCM had at one time was 17. Hopefully, we will never reach that number again.
For fall 2021, masks are only required indoors and recommended outdoors when social distancing is not possible–whereas they were required everywhere on campus last year–there are no gathering or capacity limits, and the dining hall is fully operational. For sophomores who only experienced the “COVID” version of the college, or were fully online, this change is substantial; to some, St. Mary’s is a completely different place. One sophomore who attended in-person last year admits there were many downsides to beginning college during a pandemic: “Without mid-semester breaks, burnout hit really hard… [especially coping with it] on my own.” Nevertheless, she recognizes the privilege it was to go to a college that did not have to shut down, saying, “I am glad I came on campus and got to have a connected freshman year experience, limited and difficult as it was.”
Despite continued fears about the delta variant, many students and faculty alike are cautiously optimistic about this year. Friends can smile at one another as they pass by on the path; professors can teach to a classroom full of physical students, unencumbered by a screen. If we do our part and wear masks where recommended, avoid large off-campus gatherings, and stay home when symptomatic, we can move forward into a new, post-pandemic college experience.