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Penn State students talk about returning to in-person learning during the January COVID surge, and how things are going now

Penn State students gather in the university's HUB-Robeson Center
Deitric Murphy
Students gather in the HUB-Robeson Center during Penn State's in-person spring 2022 semester.

COVID-19 levels are coming down from their omicron surge highs. But on December 30, when Penn State confirmed its decision to start the spring semester in person, university positivity rates had shot up to 13% and state infection rates were at record highs. On the other hand, COVID hospitalizations at Mount Nittany Medical Center were down from their mid-December peak, and 90% of University Park students were vaccinated.

Many students welcomed the decision. But they’ve also found classes and life are still disrupted.

Elijah Neal said he was hesitant about returning to school.

“I feel it was a bit rushed. Maybe we could’ve started out a bit slower. At least we could’ve taken the week off before coming back to classes like a lot of other universities did,” Neal said.

Rutgers, Illinois and Michigan State are among the schools that decided to delay the start of in-person learning for up to three weeks.

But some Penn State students were excited to be back in person. Second-year student Felipe Mattos de Senna e Silva said he was drained from being in quarantine and having his life upended for so long. He lives with his parents and brothers in North Carolina, but he hasn’t been able to visit other family in Brazil because of the pandemic.

"I haven't seen my grandparents in nearly three years now and that's mainly because of COVID,” Mattos de Senna e Silva said. “We also were in lockdown for a few months just me and my family inside the house, which was kind of depressing."

Now Mattos de Senna e Silva is fully vaccinated, and he just wants to enjoy time with his friends at school.

“I’m more relaxed than I would be if it was in the beginning of the pandemic with these numbers. I also think the students are getting more responsible,” Mattos de Senna e Silva said.

But second-year student Alexandria Arias said not everyone is being responsible. For example, she said students at the gym don’t always wipe down equipment after they use it like they’re supposed to.

“It comes from within one’s self to actually have the courage and effort to be clean, not saying dirty, but at the same time for everyone to be aware of their surroundings,” Arias said.

But just because classes are supposed to be in person doesn’t mean they always are. First-year student Kate Rodenberger said some of her classes have been canceled or moved online when her professor or classmates caught the virus.

“The only thing that’s really changed is that a lot of my classes randomly if there’s like a spike in cases will go online for a bit,” Rodenberger said.

Rodenberger said she feels safe on campus because she remains responsible with the virus and who she associates with.

Coronavirus numbers and hospitalizations have decreased in recent days both nationally and at Penn State, but a new and more contagious sub-variant of Omicron has recently been confirmed in the United States. As of Tuesday, the positivity rate on the Penn State University Park campus was 5.1%.

Deitric Murphy is a fourth-year student at Penn State University Park. He is majoring in journalism with a focus in broadcast and is also working on a Theatre minor, Business Certificate and a Sports Journalism Certificate. Murphy aspires to be an actor for film when he graduates college, but as a journalist he would like to work for ESPN or ABC as a talk-show host. When not at work, he is playing video games, hanging out with friends or listening to music.
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