In August 2020, many Utah colleges brought students back to campus and each college has seen a different result from their plans and student actions as they offer students a college experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The University of Utah has utilized a 2-week “circuit breaker,” moving all classes online at least until October 10th as they move into an Orange Phase. The U requires all students on campus to wear masks at all times, as well as limiting building capacities and restricting dorm visitors and activities.
“They provided masks and hand sanitizer making sure we are protected. The U has made its stance on COVID very clear and when I walk inside the buildings I see all of the people there wearing masks, I’ve even seen people come up to others to remind them to wear their mask, of course, most of the responsibilities fall on us as students to comply and follow the rules,” said computer science student Shadee Perez.
Despite their efforts, cases have continued to rise, and the U said they are always prepared to move all classes online depending on safety concerns. The U has reported 663 cases since the start of the fall semester. 116 of those cases are reported to be the university faculty and staff.
Because of the prominence of the virus on campus, some students are nervous to go there regardless of resource needs.
“With where I am located on campus I feel pretty safe, I don’t know how the situation is regarding other spaces. I’ve heard not great stories from those who are living in the dorms. But I believe it all comes down on us as students to do our part and make campus as safe as possible,” Perez said.
On the other side of Utah, Dixie State has reported 98 cases in their campus community since May 2020. There is a wide range in the numbers between each school in Utah.
At Weber State University, almost all classes are online with a few hybrid classes, and they have reported 122 cases since January 2020. The school has many students who participate through local high schools and online resources on a regular basis and about half the student population is nontraditional students.
“I feel like Weber State has done better than most schools. I have mostly online classes but I do have some hybrid classes where it’s face to face for like 5 classes and the rest are zoom,” said Kate Duncan, an early childhood education major. “I feel comfortable going up there, everything is social distanced in my classroom and everyone is wearing masks so I feel fine up there.”
Students at Weber said the university has managed to maintain the environment and educational experience found in a classroom without putting students in danger and other schools could really learn from the precautions Weber State is taking while still providing a classroom experience for students.
“I feel very safe, I go on campus Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a morning class, there’s 9 students in the class and we are very far apart from each other and every morning when we come into class, we have to get hand sanitizer and we have to spray off our desks with disinfectant and everyone is wearing masks,” said Madilyn Gomm, a Weber student studying criminal justice.
While Weber State and the U are centrally located for students and convenient nearby housing, Utah State and Brigham Young University face challenges being on either end of the populated area of the state with more students living on or near campus away from their families.
“I think that BYU is handling it pretty poorly, not that their on-campus regulations are poorly constructed, I think those are fine, but its the off-campus activities that it fails to regulate or enforce their procedures off campus,” said Jackie Sadler, a BYU senior.
BYU has said they will shut down all classes and campus activities if COVID cases do not go down within the student body. Many off-campus parties were held by a widely known student BYU student who Sadler said advertised on social media that he believes a social life is more important than preventing disease. Sadler expressed her frustrations with this and the University failing to regulate these activities.
“The honor code office has a strong hand in off-campus activities and enforcing regulations and rules off campus but they can’t even do that for disease prevention and that kind of shows me where their priorities are,” Sadler said.
BYU reported a total of 1,728 cases for the fall semester — the highest number of cases from a university or college in Utah.
Sadler said she feels safe on campus, but she feels the least safe at her apartment and at religious activities.
“I think that stake presidencies and authorities are not doing a very good job at enforcing what the church headquarters have told them to do. And I’ve even had a bishop that’s spoken against it and shown his opinion of thinking it’s a hoax and honestly, that makes me feel very uncomfortable and very unsafe going to ward events,” Sadler said. “If you don’t go to them, you know you’re gonna have people on your back about how you’re inactive and stuff so it’s kind of a bad dichotomy type thing going on.”
Utah State University has reported 577 cases for the fall semester, some occurring from early in the semester when the university quarantined on-campus students after COVID-19 was found in wastewater from the dorms.
“They tested the wastewater of our dorms, and the wastewater came back positive so they tested everyone in our dorms that same day. So I was in quarantine for a while waiting for our results to come back,” said Grayson Crowther, a computer science student. “The people that were positive had to quarantine and all their roommates had to quarantine so they’re doing a good job. They’re staying on top of it so I’m pretty happy with what Utah State has done.”
Off-campus students have thrown parties, and students like Kara Bradford have found themselves resorting to government authorities to help regulate these activities and parties because of a lack of school involvement.
“We were invited to this party, and one of our friends was having it at his house off-campus and I love myself a good party, but now is not the time,” Bradford said. “I just felt so guilty even being there, so I was like, ‘I think I have to call the cops on this’ because there were probably over a hundred people and not a mask in sight.”
She and many students in colleges across the state express that schools are taking proper measures to protect their students and staff, and it is up to the students at this point to slow down the rate of COVID-19’s rapid spread.
“I love Utah State and I know that they’re doing the best they can because really given the situation, you can’t control what people are doing and there’s only so much enforcing that they could do,” Bradford said.
Utah Valley University follows the rest of the schools with certain protocols like mask requirements, visitation restrictions and more, and the school has reported 358 positive cases for the fall semester, including many high school students, similar to Weber State.