New Year, Old Pandemic: Is the COVID cloud gone?

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The Daily Illini File Photo

Students wearing masks sit at a distance in the Ikenberry Commons doing school work on Sept. 18. More students this upcoming school year will experience a more normal school year with the mask mandate lifted and building access regulations.

By Kylie Corral, Assistant buzz Editor

It’s been a long and exhausting recovery from the past few pandemic-filled years, and being a college student while COVID-19 has dominated our lives, the news and much more, has indeed been a journey.

This “COVID cloud” has been hanging over the University for what seems like too long. And it’s true, COVID-19 has affected everything from in-person classes to mask policies to the lack of in-person campus tours before Welcome Week.

But with the class of 2026 making its way to the University this fall, some of this menacing “COVID cloud” has dissipated, but there are still remnants that linger in empty corridors and students’ lives.

Allison Vance, the director of Institutional Communications for the University, said the University is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines this fall, giving students the freedom to choose for themselves which regulations are best for themselves.

“The CDC and (the Illinois Department of Public Health) do not require institutions to mandate (masks) for everyone,” Vance said. “Instead of imposing mandates, we are encouraging each person to make their own decision on face coverings based on their personal risk factors. And we support anyone who wishes to consider wearing a face covering, urging them to choose one that is high quality and fits well.”

Although building access apps will not be around this year, Vance said there are still digital mechanisms that will be monitoring vaccines and testing statuses. 

“We still have the COVID-19 vaccine mandate from the University of Illinois System, which provides an additional layer of protection not available nearly anywhere else,” she said.

COVID-19 may seem like it’s waning, but Vance said it’s still a major University concern for the upcoming academic year.

One significant difference is the widespread availability of fast and effective vaccines for a larger percent of the population (including kids) and reliable at-home testing options,” Vance said. “We also have confidence in the practices and procedures that were developed last year, and we can pivot our approach as necessary.”

She also added that the University will be adding Awais Vaid to the University community as the director of the McKinley Health Center. Before coming to the University, Vaid worked for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District as deputy administrator and epidemiologist.

Vance said Vaid has been a valuable partner to the University, and everyone is thrilled to have his expertise.

“I sincerely hope our students have a wonderful year,” she said. “Our goal is to do everything we can to maximize safety as well as maximize their experience.”

Asher Mai, senior in Engineering, said he doesn’t have any concerns about next semester, adding that the past year was managed well. Mai said he’s looking forward to things now that restrictions have changed.

“I do like more events happening because we haven’t had a lot,” Mai said. “For example, the movie on the Main Quad, different guest speakers and musicians, artists come for concerts and other sports events.”

Majd Alahmed, who is also in Engineering, said she is a little worried about next semester, especially with the new appearance of monkeypox. She added that she’s afraid Monkeypox will be like COVID-19, making classes online and harder to focus on.

“So yeah, I would prefer if the classes and exams were still, like, required to be wearing a mask inside of them,” Alahmed said.

She added that everyone is at a confusing stage of the pandemic where COVID-19 can be dealt with but not with 100% certainty quite yet.

“You’re not afraid of (COVID-19) anymore because we are already vaccinated like three or four shots already,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s kind of still like at the stage where we don’t really know a medicine for it.”

Olabisi Efunnuga, senior in Media, said that based on her last few years at the University, she agrees that it would be safe to take away mask mandates from classrooms.

“I think that’s actually a really good thing, going back to normal,” Efunnuga said. “But then at the same time, I understand that some people might not feel comfortable doing that, and that’s really up to them. They can always put their mask on. If I prefer not to put my mask on, that’s okay.”

Effunuga also said she doesn’t think the University would soften mask mandates if it wasn’t safe and said she felt assured that this year will be different as she looks forward to a senior year full of fun.

She added that it’s definitely going to be different since Illinois students will be back to seeing others’ faces in classes and around campus.

“It’s given a sense of normal again, and that’s good,” she said.

 

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