New Year, New Variant

Illustration by Matthew Bennett

Monica Alarcon-Najarro, Contributing Writer

From booster shots to the high demand of COVID-19 tests, 2022 is bringing the same pandemic anxiety from last year, but with more cases. The new year has already been filled with people hopping between pharmacies searching for COVID-19 testing after going out and celebrating the beginning of 2022.

The Omicron variant has snuck its way into the lives of people around the world. The variant is known for spreading much more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 variant, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because of this, several universities, including Harvard and George Washington have decided to start their first weeks of classes online.

The pandemic has already taken most of my college experience away. As I’m graduating this semester, I hope that the pandemic will be a thing of the past. However, I’m fully aware that it will take way more time than just this semester for things to go back to normal.

VCU has decided to predominantly return to in-person academic instruction for the spring semester, with nearly 70% of all courses face-to-face in comparison to the 57% from the fall. Students must continue to wear masks during campus-life events and are required to report a booster shot prior to Feb. 1.

I personally prefer my classes to be in person rather than online, but I know that others may not feel the same way and have concerns over classes being face-to-face with cases rising. I wasn’t as scared to attend my classes in-person last semester because of the social distancing and mask guidelines.

As of January 14, Richmond has 36,150 active, meaning still in the infectious phase, COVID-19 cases according to the Virginia Department of Health. In comparison, at the beginning of the fall 2021 semester there were around 100 COVID-19 cases in Richmond according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The increase in the number of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant makes me hope that VCU will be flexible and lenient with students missing classes.  It makes me feel uneasy that someone might attend class asymptomatically and spread Omicron unknowingly.

If case numbers rise at VCU, the university needs to take necessary steps to make sure that students can transition online. Another survey should be sent to the student body to see how the majority of people feel about returning to classes in-person. 

Some students who are returning back to campus have mixed feelings about the new variant and classes being in-person.

Charlotte Mulder, a junior majoring in political science and history at VCU, sees the positives in both online and in-person classes.

“I think that I do get more out of in-person classes because I’m forced to be more present when in the classroom as it’s easier to get distracted and get away with paying less attention when classes are online,” Mulder said.

However, online classes allow for more flexibility with students if they were to get COVID-19 and wouldn’t want to miss lectures, Mulder added.

When it comes to VCU’s decision on starting in-person, Alexandra Pereira, a junior majoring in medical laboratory science, isn’t comfortable going into the spring semester.

“I think VCU going in person immediately is a bad call and I feel like they [VCU] are doing it because they don’t want to lose money or make things more complicated at the expense of their students,” Pereira said.

In addition, two weeks online would be able to give students another layer of safety as cases are skyrocketing, as of now, Pereira added.

Although an additional two weeks could act as a buffer for students as COVID-19 cases increase, COVID-19 will continue to be in our lives — we’re just learning to live with it.

From what we’ve experienced so far in this pandemic, I feel that we are slowly going to transition back to our normal pre-pandemic lives further on into 2022. I’m looking forward to living life normally and I can’t wait for the day where we can talk about this pandemic in the past tense.

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