As the spring 2021 semester approaches, University of Georgia students are preparing for a fresh start. As the COVID-19 pandemic persists into the new year, students at UGA are both hopeful and conflicted with the first day of classes nearing on Jan. 13.
Classes will be mixed between in-person, hybrid or completely online instruction. However, UGA will increase in-person instruction this semester. In a message from Provost S. Jack Hu, Vice President for Instruction Rahul Shrivastav and Vice Provost for Graduate Education Ron Walcott, data from the fall 2020 semester concluded that there was little evidence of transmission of COVID-19 in classrooms.
There are 8,579 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Athens-Clarke County as of Jan. 4, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning U.S. citizens to stay home for the holidays and get tested, there has been a significant rise in cases across the nation. The CDC predicts that there will likely be 900,000 to 1,800,000 new cases reported in the week ending Jan. 30.
In the final weeks of 2020, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were authorized and started to be distributed around the nation. The UGA Health Center received its first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines over winter break, according to a Jan. 5 ArchNews email.
UGA President Jere Morehead, Hu and UGA’s medical oversight task force are expecting the health center to offer vaccines to all UGA community members by later this spring or early summer. However, they do not have a precise schedule according to the ArchNews email.
The Red & Black spoke to students as they reflected on their feelings toward the previous semester at UGA, as well as their thoughts on the school’s future as the pandemic continues.
Davis Champion, a freshman finance major from Marietta, said there were days where he would rarely leave his dorm room during the fall.
“I’m really interested to see how different things may end up being this semester, but I’m conflicted on how I feel about it,” Champion said.
Champion expressed uncertainty about the upcoming semester, saying he has “no clue” what it is going to look like. He said he’s concerned with the reduced capacity on the buses, and may have to “jump through some hoops” to get to class on time.
“Most of my classes next semester are going to be in person as far as I’m aware, so I am a little concerned about how well the bus system is going to be working because one of my classes is over on east campus,” Champion said.
Champion said he thinks hybrid instruction is the best system considering the school’s current situation.
“Some people may not be comfortable going in person while at the same time, hybrid classes still allow others to attend when they may not be able to make it to class for whatever reason they may have,” Champion said.
Sophomore film studies major Mary Williams from Atlanta said she is excited about the semester, albeit feeling worried that it’s going to feel the same as the previous one.
Most of Williams’ spring classes will be hybrid, with the exception of one in-person course. Williams said that the hybrid system is the best way to approach the spring semester, and it accommodates her learning preferences.
“For me, I am someone who learns better under face-to-face instruction… the setting and being able to directly communicate with professors and other students without the zoom interface is what I prefer,” Williams said. “I didn’t feel unsafe in the classrooms last semester because so few people were coming in, but I do understand that there are still risks.”
Although Williams is happy and looking forward to the spring, she said adjusting to the new normal is going to be difficult.
“I think it's hard to feel normal when you're trying your hardest to, but the situation is just not,” Williams said. “Obviously we can’t have normal...we don’t even know what normal is anymore...I feel like a lot has just been taken away.”
While Champion didn’t mind online instruction, Parker Manthei, a sophomore mechanical engineering major from Spokane, Washington, said he did not enjoy it.
“Academically, the fall semester was terrible and I really hated online school...socially, it started off slow but finished strong because I learned how to adapt better to this really weird era of living with social distancing guidelines and limitations,” Manthei said.
Manthei said realistically, he feels like the spring semester will be similar to the previous one. However, he said he’s hopeful that a “miracle” will occur, and he will be able to return to a more normal college experience.
Although Manthei’s classes are hybrid, he expects he will be doing most of his work online.
“I would much rather have in-person classes so I can regain that ability to meet my classmates and professors in person,” Manthei said.
Manthei said he has never felt unsafe and believes that UGA is doing the best it can to accommodate thousands of students' concerns.
In the end, Manthei said there is nothing he can do and “it is what it is for the time being.”