As coronavirus cases rise across the country, out-of-state students at the University of Georgia are spending their winter breaks differently this year. Some students have returned to campus after the Thanksgiving holiday, while others will stay home until coming back to campus after the new year.
Since January, the novel coronavirus has spread to every state. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. reported 2,879 deaths on Friday, a record high for COVID-19 deaths in a single day. The U.S. has also topped 100,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations on the same day, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said the worst might still lie ahead. He predicted the U.S. COVID-19 death toll could reach 450,000 by February, and warned the country that this winter could be “the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
There have been 14,355,366 cases in the U.S. as of Thursday. Athens-Clarke County has reported 6,938 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday.
Sterling Snape returned to campus after Thanksgiving break in her hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas to take her final exams and complete her last projects in a quiet environment away from family. Snape, an international affairs and German double major, plans to return home on Dec. 13.
There have been 140,563 confirmed cases in Arkansas as of Thursday.
“I guess I just think it's kind of weird because when this first started, Arkansas didn't really have problems with the virus. Now all the sudden, the cases are rising around Christmas which is very unfortunate because obviously you can't do anything about it,” Snape said.
Snape said she wouldn’t be seeing her grandparents for the upcoming holiday for their health and safety.
Snape isn’t the only out-of-state student still on campus. Connor Rahbany, a senior political science and international affairs double major from Danville, Kentucky, plans to return home on Dec. 20.
Rahbany and his immediate family all recently recovered from COVID-19, so they feel confident spending the holidays under one roof. Rahbany said it would only be his three brothers along with his parents, and they do not plan on seeing anyone else.
However, Rahbany believes this pandemic is “raging out of control,” even in his home state.
According to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, the state reported 37 new deaths Wednesday afternoon, and Kentucky's COVID-19 death toll has now climbed to 2,039 people. This is the highest number of virus deaths reported in a 24-hour span in the state.
Rahbany said indoor dining is banned in Kentucky restaurants, masks are required in every establishment, and gatherings are limited. Beshear said the executive order banning indoor dining will end on Dec. 14.
“If you’re going to ban dining, then ban it. Instead, in Kentucky, if a restaurant builds an outdoor structure that is completely enclosed, it still counts as outdoor dining, not indoor, and is therefore legal,” Rahbany said. “That makes no sense to me...If restaurants are going to do that, then the state should allow indoor dining. All I want is consistency.”
Like Rahbany, Megan Grantier’s last semester at UGA is quickly approaching.
Grantier, a senior journalism major from Staunton, Virginia, spent Thanksgiving at home and chose not to return to campus until January to minimize the possible risk of giving her family members COVID-19.
“Since Staunton is smaller than Athens, it’s easier for us to contain the disease but our town has really kind of locked down recently and once we started to open up again the guidelines were really enforced,” Grantier said.
With two younger siblings, Grantier said her family doesn’t normally travel over the break, so no plans were ruined.
“Knowing that we're just gonna be a family unit again feels right and good even in this pandemic. And if I get sick, it happens, but it won't happen because I wasn't safe,” Grantier said.
In order to spend time with friends and extended family members, Grantier safely does so at her family’s outdoor fire pit.
“We've just been inviting friends over to stay outside and we've set up different seating arrangements with our chairs so that people can sit, be with one another, social distance and still be warm,” Grantier said.
Most restaurants in Staunton have opened up with outdoor dining, Grantier said, even in the cold Virginia winter. Grantier still goes to the restaurants, but she dresses warmly and sits outside instead, she said
At the beginning of the pandemic, the majority of restaurants and stores in Staunton were closed, which directly and devastatingly affected small businesses. Despite this, Grantier said the city has banded together in an attempt to keep these businesses open in a safe manner.
“Starting in June and throughout the summer, we blocked off the main street and turned it into seating for people outside for restaurants, and they opened all the doors and windows, requiring masks everywhere you go inside,” Grantier said.
Overall, Grantier is glad to be back and isolated at home, even if she may not have a traditional graduation or see her friends at school everyday.
“When it comes down to it, I'm not sick, I don't have any close relatives that have passed away, so overall I try to count my blessings and look at it positively,” Grantier said.