New Semester, Same Pandemic

Montana Hall, English major from Jonesboro, poses for a portrait

It’s the start of a new semester and a lot of things regarding Tech are different than they have been in the past few semesters. Classes are finally meeting in person again, larger school events are making their long-anticipated comeback, and Tech’s sports program is finally moving forward again.

Despite these changes, one thing has remained: COVID-19’s influence on the day-to-day operations of the campus. With the new semester comes new — and some returning — policies and concerns, shared by staff and students alike.

Kristy Davis, associate dean of student wellness, said some policies have been reimplemented or adjusted for the fall semester.

The most familiar policy regarding COVID-19 is back with the return of a campus-wide mask mandate. Days before the semester began, a circuit court judge in Little Rock blocked Act 1002 from taking effect. That law prohibited public entities from mandating mask wearing. Prior to that judge’s ruling, the university could only encourage mask wearing.

Tech is now one of many schools that reinstituted a mask mandate, with Davis explaining the mandate is “a proven way to reduce the transmission of the virus.”

“We are proud of our campus for complying with mask mandates and doing their best to social distance,” Davis said, but even with the compliance to those policies, campus infection rates are expected to “mirror those at the state level.”

The mask mandate isn’t the only policy in effect, with many policies being implemented for another semester. While some of these policies are quite varied compared to recent semesters, the campus approach to the COVID-19 response differs “only in how we handle contact tracing for fully vaccinated individuals,” Davis said.

The Health and Wellness Center’s approach to quarantine for the fully vaccinated requires no actual isolation upon contact with a COVID-positive person. Instead, if someone is fully vaccinated, they are told to “monitor for symptoms for 14 days and get tested three to five days after exposure.”

Davs said that policy is “in line with guidance from the Arkansas Department of Health.”

While another semester following these policies may not be topping any student’s wish list, the chance to return to “normal” may seem far less elusive than in the past. The growing number of vaccinated students provides a hopeful precedent, Davis said, adding that she hopes that “more and more students and employees will continue to get the COVID19 vaccine.”

While some are apprehensive regarding vaccination, Davis said increased vaccination is the “only way to get back to ‘normal.’”

She said it is  “hard to predict when this may happen, but the HWC will be here to assist our campus in managing COVID19 for as long as necessary.”

Students seeking more information regarding Tech’s policies and procedures regarding COVID-19 can visit the Health and Wellness center in Doc Bryan 119 or visit the ATU Pandemic Recovery Management Plan at: https://www.atu.edu/pandemicrecovery/managementplan.php.

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