Back to School Update

It’s been a little more than five months since I first wrote about how COVID-19 affected my spring semester of college. Since then, new guidelines and teaching styles were implemented for the fall semester and I want to share what our new normal looks like.

In my opinion, my college in South Dakota has handled its response to the pandemic well. We were able to start the semester as safely as possible because they established guidelines for social distancing and wearing face masks and handled some of the scenarios that arose on campus.

Of course, social distancing means limited capacity in the classroom and even the largest classes can only accommodate 20-30 people. This has led to adjusted in-person class schedules, where students take turns attending class in person vs. online, so that everyone can participate in some in-person instruction each week. Some classes have also continued to follow a fully online schedule.

The spread of the virus spiked at one point at my school (numbers released were based on student reports), and some projections showed it would be school-wide within a few weeks. Thankfully, the staff were diligent and effective with contact-tracing and quarantining students. This incident was curtailed after only a couple of weeks and the rate of new infections reduced by more than 75 percent.

Several friends of mine argued about the effectiveness and necessity of these protocols; in response, I pointed to those close to me who are living with chronic medical issues and are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. I explained that following the recommended guidelines was critical to protecting them and others.

Despite trying to follow protocols as carefully as possible, there’s only so much one can control. The odds are you will eventually be exposed to someone who has COVID-19. Several of my friends have contracted COVID-19; some felt they had a cold and others felt like their chest was on fire. I’ve been lucky because I haven’t contracted it, but I did have to quarantine for about a month after being in contact with infected peers.

Unfortunately, my fiancé also had to quarantine. In-person labs and clinicals are not only essential to her degree but mandatory to pass. Nonetheless, she was unable to attend labs or go to work and that created some financial grief on top of the anxiety around her schoolwork. Now, we’re playing catch up and for my fiancé, this means 12+ hour days in the lab and at the hospital.

For me, returning to campus feels foreign when you’re still unable to see your friends or have contact with people outside of your home. The online learning structure and necessary curriculum changes have made classes feel different too.

Honestly, I didn’t see the impact of this pandemic clearly until we both had to quarantine, even after testing negative. The virus was easy to ignore – until it wasn’t.

COVID-19 created some bumps in the road, but I ‘m glad my school has been reasonably accommodating as we continue navigating this new normal.

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