Will autumn quarter 2021 be back on campus?

Emails have been sent saying the campus is going to be opening up, but is that the best decision for students and faculty?

In a recent email from UW Insider, sent on May 5, the university provided updates regarding the return to campus. As a returning student myself, I am also curious about the plans for going back in person, and if plans to open campus will move forward even if COVID cases in the county are still high.

UW’s webpage “Autumn Quarter 2021,” focuses on breaking down what is projected to happen for all three campuses as a whole, but fails to go into much detail about UW Tacoma or UW Bothell specifically. It states, “As vaccination rates and vaccine availability climb in our region, we will continue making decisions that reflect the most current public health guidance.” 

Knowing that vaccination availability rates are increasing is reassuring. However, the positive COVID cases in Pierce County have continued to increase as well, and with Pierce County having rolled back to phase 2 with the potential of going back all the way to 1, what will this mean for the prospect of going back in person? Will this guidance affect which campuses are able to go back in the fall?

Looking at the UWT website for specifics about campus approaches to dealing with the prospect of in-person classes to shed some light on the situation, UWT seems to be staying positive when it comes to classroom safety. 

The page states that the office of the chancellor is, “ … hopeful that Washington state will be able to adopt revised higher education guidelines related to distancing, such as the ones adopted in K-12 schools based on Centers for Disease Control guidance. All students and instructors will still be expected to wear a mask and follow other public health guidelines in our learning spaces.” 

As for vaccinations, “the University of Washington will require all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. UW is working with state and county public health agencies, along with other state universities, to make decisions about whether COVID-19 vaccines will be mandated for students.”

They also state that “Before the start of autumn quarter, students will need to verify they have been vaccinated unless they are claiming a medical, religious or philosophical exemption,” and make note that  near the beginning on this coming summer, they will “share how students can verify their COVID-19 vaccination or claim an exemption.”

The real question is: What will we do if the numbers in Pierce county continue to rise and if the county continues to move backwards? Will UW Tacoma go through with opening the campus?  

If the county was in phase three or even four I would not have an issue going back. But the fact that the county’s COVID numbers are rising and we are moving backwards has me concerned about the circumstances. 

Being online this past year and a half has been hard for many students, both physically and mentally. Online classes are much harder, especially if professors are sending out readings and deadlines, us students are having to teach ourselves the curriculum with sometimes little to no group discussion.

Additionally, having to look at a computer screen for hours at a time has caused students, myself included, to start getting migraines or worsen migraine symptoms. But even with the irritation of online school, it is ultimately the safer option for students and faculty. 

Many people feel hesitant about getting the vaccine due to how fast they were made and then made available to the public. Even if I had the vaccine I would still not feel comfortable going back in person based on where we are now. 

The reason I have yet to get one is because of how vaccines affect me. I am often left feeling sick for days on end. I know that if I got it I would not only have the side effects, but it would also impact my school work since I would not be fully present due to my symptoms.  

Personally, I would rather continue being online to protect the health and wellbeing of not only myself and my family, but other students, faculty and their families. 

In person classes are an unnecessary risk for everyone involved. Even though the school is making it mandatory for everyone to get the vaccine, people may still not get it based on exemptions. As a commuter campus, UWT has many students using public transportation to get to campus and we have no idea if individuals on public transportation are vaccinated. 

If they were contagious then it could easily spread on campus, which could lead to a campus outbreak affecting not only those on campus but anyone they come into contact with. There are still so many “what if’s” about the vaccine and side effects with how quickly they came out.  

We also don’t even know if the county will even be open by autumn quarter. If it isn’t, then the school should not be forcing students to be on campus. The school should be focused on keeping students and faculty safe, and if that means more online classes, then so be it.