WWU is looking at in-person classes for the first time since COVID-19 — emotions among students are mixed
As Whatcom County moves into Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan, restaurants open up to 50% capacity and Western plans for in-person classes starting fall quarter.
While Western offered a small number of in-person classes in the spring quarter, this is the first time Western has considered making plans for the majority to resume. Other universities around the U.S. have already welcomed students back on campus.
The University of Florida opened for hybrid classes for its spring semester on Jan. 11. They offered as many in-person courses in spring 2021 as they did in spring 2020 before the pandemic, according to Steve Orlando, the assistant vice president of communications at the university.
Classes operated at 20% capacity and Orlando said it’s gone well for the university.
“We’ve had no evidence of transmitted virus in any classroom settings,” he said.
Orlando attributes the success of a safe return to the on-campus medical center at the university.
“We have been very fortunate in that we have the guidance of our academic medical center here on campus, and they’ve really guided everything we’ve done throughout the pandemic,” Orlando said.
Western has received the help and guidance of the Student Health Center, Environmental Health and Safety, the Assistant Attorney General and the COVID-19 Incident Management Team, according to President Sabah Randhawa in an email sent to students and faculty.
The University of Florida is still doing hybrid classes in spring, but for fall, they’re hoping to move forward to full capacity. Orlando said the university strongly encourages masks, social distancing and vaccinations across campus.
“I want to see the statistics of who has and doesn’t have the vaccine and if people will actually wear their masks while social distancing on campus,” Westen student Lily Johnson said. “It all depends on that if I want to come back.”
Although enthusiastic about the opportunity to go back to school, Western students strive for safety when coming back to in-person classes.
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“I’m very excited to be back on campus and not Zoom from my apartment because the only time I’m on campus is when I have homework,” Western student Edith Ryan said. “I want to see numbers of vaccines go up so we can all be safe and come back to campus.”
Western’s Student Health Center is introducing Viking Vax days to all Western students in the Bellingham area. Viking Vax days is an initiative to offer vaccines to Western employees and their families.
Randhawa said in an email dispersed to students on April 21 that he hopes this will motivate everyone in the Western community who is able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so.
“We have very strongly encouraged students to get vaccinated here at [the University of Florida]. On April 5, we held a mass vaccination event that was so large, we had it done in our football stadium,” Orlando said. “Our goal was 20,000 vaccinations in the first week. We met that goal and that was a very exciting moment for us.”
Western is not requiring vaccinations for students to return to campus in the fall. However, students have shown a lot of interest in getting vaccinated and that is a big help to the universities’ efforts to return to a safe campus, said Paul Cocke, Western’s director of University Communications.
Western students are starting to feel the impact of a year of online classes.
“I’m excited and ready to come back to campus,” Johnson said. “I’m so sick of just staring at my computer all day and not talking to any real people.”
As Western plans to open up and move forward quarter-by-quarter, students are excited and ready to return to a sense of normalcy in their academic lives.
“Of course, all our decisions will be based on the health and safety of our campus, it’s always our top priority,” Cocke said.