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Ashley Lankford, a compass program teacher at Cleveland Road Elementary, recieves her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in the Clarke Central High School gymnasium on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. This site vaccinated aproximately 700 Clarke Central School District employees on Wednesday, with another 700 recieving their vaccinations at Cedar Shoals High School. (Photo/Zachary Tate, ztate@randb.com)

Mingyu Sun is from Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 was first detected. In December 2019, she visited her family for the first time in more than three years since coming to the University of Georgia for her graduate degree. She returned within days of newly enforced travel advisories from the United States.

The Red & Black documented her experience in our first article about the coronavirus — back when COVID-19 hadn’t entered our daily conversations and before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Before the masks, lockdowns and social distancing, Sun and other Chinese students already left normal life.

“China already experienced everything. It’s a little surprising to me that some countries didn’t pay enough attention,” Sun said in a March 2020 interview.

In early March 2020, the university community saw the first of its now more than 6,600 cumulative COVID-19 cases. Students and staff could not return to normal semester activity once spring break ended.

Twelve months later, life remains different in Athens and at UGA. But an end to the pandemic may be in sight. Across Instagram stories and Facebook photos, people are sharing their vaccination passports which are, a card ensuring vaccination doses have been administered.

Nearly 1,800 members of the UGA campus population have been vaccinated by the University Health Center. More than 1,500 have received full doses, with the rest waiting for a second dose, according to the latest ArchNews email from the UGA Medical Oversight Task Force on vaccinations.

The beginning of an end

The first vaccines arrived in December for the Athens community, and UGA began offering vaccinations over winter break to older people and health care workers. The university created a plan based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to expand vaccinations. Police officers and people over the age of 65 came first.

Teachers, social work interns in the field, and high risk patients are getting vaccinated by the UHC. This eligibility has been announced to expand on a weekly basis to include more people and potentially vaccinate students before the semester’s end.

While vaccinations expand, racial disparities persist. Black, Hispanic and Native Americans have received vaccines at a much lower rate than white Americans, according to Kaiser Health News.

But local data on these disparities is hard to come by. UGA doesn’t publicly report the number of vaccinations outside of periodical updates, and Athens-Clarke County lacks data on race and ethnicity of people that have gotten vaccinated. Statewide, nearly 337,000 vaccinations have been administered to Black people in Georgia compared to the 1 million administered to white people, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The vaccines protect people who receive them from severe illness and death caused by COVID-19, but it takes time to distribute the shots across the country. Things won’t go back to normal immediately.

Fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks, social distance and avoid crowds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even though they are effective at preventing COVID-19, it’s unclear how well the vaccines prevent people from spreading it, according to the CDC.

On the positive side

One year since the coronavirus was first detected, Sun doesn’t leave her house often, taking extra safety precautions. She’s been busy, though — making friends, learning new ways to communicate with the students who she TA’s and keeping in touch with family as much as possible.

Because her family and support system are in Wuhan, nearly 5,000 miles from Athens, Sun said she wouldn’t know what to do if she got sick.

“I think some international graduate students may also feel like me because we don’t want to trouble others,” Sun said. “If something bad happens, we would try to digest that ourselves. That’s maybe why we have been trying to be really careful.”

During her time in the U.S., Sun has had some time to reflect and come to terms with the pandemic and 2020 as a whole.

A few things still puzzle Sun. She said between the protests, elections and U.S. response to the pandemic, she’s realized both China and the U.S. are more complicated than she ever thought.

Those differences and complexities she can’t control — but there are some aspects of her life she wants to change from the pandemic onward. Sun said she’s learning how to better communicate with her students and in her own work. She started a YouTube channel in July explaining quantum physics content.

Given the last year and three months that she’s had, Sun wants to look up for 2021.

“One good thing that my mama has done is seeing things from the positive side,” Sun said. “I really hope I could do the same.”


Spencer Donovan contributed to this article.