While many Penn State students are set to return to the University Park campus for the fall semester in less than a month, some are worried about what school will look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
That includes sophomore Joshua Kouassi, who was looking at his classes in the school’s online system on a recent day, trying to figure out which ones will actually be in person.
"I have a German course," Kouassi said. "Actually, I’m going to switch the German course out. As of right now, it’s on Zoom."
Kouassi is confident leaving his west Philadelphia home for State College in the fall is the right choice.
“I’m fully aware of all the risks, but I need to get out of the house, so like I’m willing to sacrifice so much just to get that social experience back,” Kouassi said.
Unless partygoers wear masks and stay socially distant, Kouassi fears parties could be the source of a COVID-19 outbreak.
“The university is really going to need to crack down on parties," Kouassi said. "Aside from classes and school buildings where they have cleaning staff, I really think the parties are going to be the biggest issue.”
Penn State is planning to bring students back to its campuses. University President Eric Barron has said about 19% of classes will be fully in-person and 28% will use a hybrid model. Fifteen percent will be asynchronous web-based classes, while the roughly remaining third of classes will take place on a fixed schedule over video conference.
A few miles northeast in uptown Philadelphia, sophomore Eyan Lynch knows firsthand about what COVID-19 can do. Two of Lynch’s aunts and three uncles died from COVID-19 complications earlier this year.
“There are a lot of people who just either one, don’t believe in this whole pandemic or two, just don’t care," Lynch said. "It’s quite frankly, unfortunate, because I personally have lost five family members to this virus. It took a toll on my family.”
While the self-proclaimed extrovert misses his college friends, Lynch said the problem of COVID-19 spread extends to all areas of college life, not just parties. A political science major, Lynch is frustrated and says he cannot put his faith in the Penn State community to stay safe if some students decide to ignore COVID-19 protocols.
Still, Lynch plans to return to school. Like Kouassi, three of his five classes will likely be on Zoom. If the remaining two are moved online, Lynch will reevaluate his schedule.
“If everything is online, I need to switch some of my classes around," Lynch said. "I’m more of an in-person learner.”
Senior broadcast journalism major Gwyneth Falloon will live in a new apartment complex downtown. While Fallon says she is lucky to have only one roommate and a bedroom to herself, she doesn't think students will follow the university’s guidelines.
Students are being asked to sign a pledge to agree to follow basic health rules like wearing masks and staying socially distant both on and off campus. The Interfraternity Council has agreed to suspend all social activities.
“I think it’s going to be a little bit of a nightmare," Falloon said. "I’m hoping it won’t be and that people will take the precautions and wear masks and stay six feet apart but there’s only so much of that that you can do. Penn State’s a big campus. You walk to class, there’s thousands of people around you.”
Falloon is taking just three classes, with two online and one in person. While Falloon will limit the number of friends she sees this fall, she worries other students will not make the same sacrifice and will hang out in social settings with many different people.
“I think everyone’s just kind of excited to go back, so I think it’s going to be a little bit of a disaster when we all go back," Falloon said. "(Nearly) 50,000 students together and saying ‘OK, don’t go hang out with each other,’ it’s not really going to work.”
Penn State classes are scheduled to start Aug. 24.