Everything you need to know: Returning to campus and COVID-19

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Ishaan Nandwani, Contributing Writer

It’s a new year and a new semester. Despite the political turmoil that has permeated the past few weeks, I’m determined to make 2021 the best year possible.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is still a significant danger to our community, and it is essential to be mindful of this threat as we navigate the new semester.

For those of us who returned to campus last semester, we’ve already seen how much our college lives have changed. Many of us faced challenges adapting to virtual learning, limiting our interactions with friends and experiencing overwhelming Zoom fatigue for the first time.

As time has passed, most college students are likely desperate to return to normalcy. I know I certainly am. I understand the desire for human interaction, but the fact remains that we cannot ignore the implications of our actions when we fail to follow these basic guidelines.

Just this past week alone, I’ve seen countless Instagram posts of friends gathering together in large numbers, maskless, and traveling on exuberant vacations to the Bahamas and Hawaii. I was shocked at how people were openly defying state health guidelines and shamelessly posting it all as if nothing has changed in the world.

As young college students, we must do our part to protect the most vulnerable members of our diverse Richmond community — many of whom are especially at-risk for the virus, including the elderly, uninsured and people of color. By choosing to satisfy your own interests during this very much alive pandemic, you are saying these lives simply do not matter to you.

We are entering the most virulent surge of the virus, with cases in the commonwealth rising to over 450,000 and 18,110 in the last week, according to the Virginia Department of Health. As President Michael Rao stated in his most recent email, cases are “four times higher than at the beginning of the fall semester.” Therefore, the COVID situation on campus this semester will be even worse than in the fall, with nearly all classes held virtually these first couple of months.

As we return to campus this spring, it is essential that we follow guidelines from VCU and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those parties you were planning on going to? Skip them. Those plans to attend rallies or other superspreader events? Cancel them. Be sure to complete your daily health checks, communicate symptoms to Student Health Services and keep up with the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. To beat this virus as fast as possible, it’s going to take all of our collective efforts.

For those who are simply exhausted, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. VCU has begun to distribute the vaccine in waves, with students in clinical roles having priority to get the vaccine. To all students, I urge you to sign up for an appointment to get the vaccine when you have the chance. You will receive an email from your department chair notifying you once it is your turn. Building immunity within our community is essential to slowing the spread of the virus and preventing yourself from getting sick.

If you have any questions about this new vaccine, the changes in your classes this semester, or practicing appropriate safety guidelines, I encourage you to reach out to your advisor or leave a comment below, and your questions will be brought up to faculty.

Stay healthy, friends, and good luck this semester.

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