Students respond to new COVID-19 guidelines on campus

Abigail Celoria, Contributing Writer

With the release of the COVID-19 vaccines, the world has taken a full step toward pre-pandemic normalcy. The CDC has adjusted its safety guidelines, prompting states across the United States to make their own internal changes. In North Carolina, the mask mandate has been lifted in most indoor settings. With this, UNC Wilmington (UNCW) recently released a COVID-19 policy update that has caused much conversation among its student body.

On May 19, the Office of University Relations sent out an update to all UNCW students that contained a detailed description of the COVID-19 protocol changes on campus. Face coverings are no longer required except in close-contact environments such as health facilities and transit and social distancing limits will be lessened. Essentially, the campus will be running at full capacity again. Personal safety measures are recommended, but these are at the discretion of each individual.

For many students, the idea of returning to a bustling campus community is thrilling, but summer students are the first to experience the changes. E.C. Cobb-Curtis, a rising sophomore, reflected on the past year.

Students walking on campus with and without face masks. (Kaylin Damico)

“I appreciated the way that the university was careful about the virus, even though it was hard for me personally,” said Cobb-Curtis. “When my roommate had to move out because of de-densification, it was difficult for me. I pushed through, though, and remained safe.”

Cobb-Curtis is now living on campus for the summer, taking online classes. Having only experienced college life during the pandemic, she has already noticed a change.

“It has been much more lax compared to this last semester. I’ve seen people hanging out on campus, which is nice. It definitely isn’t as active as it would be during the year, but campus isn’t dead. I’ll walk around and see people playing spike-ball, setting up hammocks, and it feels like we’re returning to normal,” Cobb-Curtis said.

Judah Zdziarski, a senior, is currently residing on campus while working a student maintenance job. As an RA this past year, he experienced first-hand the difficulties of planning for an abnormal school year.

“None of us had any idea what college was supposed to look like during the pandemic,” said Zdziarski. “I saw that the university had to make a lot of quick decision-making. We did stay open, though, and while we did have cases, our safety was prioritized with the policies that were put in place.”

With the new policies, he is equally positive.

“First thought is that I am excited. I like that they are still enforcing masks in close spaces, like transit, so safety is still important. Things like visitation, though, are being reverted back to pre-COVID policies. I would say that overall, this is telling of good things to come,” Zadziarski said.

Zdziarski then expanded on the immediate effects of the updated policies.

“It’s definitely more relaxed already,” Zdziarski said. “Really the same day the announcement was made, I feel like people breathed easier. Residents have been able to interact in the halls, which is bringing back the classic college atmosphere. It’s nice to have those old social interactions back that we struggled so much with before.”

Administering the COVID-19 vaccine. (Kaylin Damico)

As the country’s vaccination rate continues upward, fears about contracting COVID-19 have been lessened. While there is still some risk, neither resident had any apprehensions about contracting the environment at UNCW.

“I’m not concerned personally,” said Zdziarski. “Since I am vaccinated now and also still trying to be careful. Personal steps, like carrying a mask around, are still helpful just in case I do need it, but I’m pretty confident in my safety now, both on and off campus,”

Though the pandemic’s trajectory is on the upswing, continuing to promote personal safety will still be a major benefit to fellow students. Whether this means vaccination, wearing masks, or simply remembering to sanitize hands, each of us can do our part in keeping up a healthy environment. With the risk decreasing, there is a lot to look forward to, both for incoming and returning students.

“I am so excited to actually have a college experience, since last year was not quite normal,” said Cobb-Curtis. “Living on campus and having a roommate, attending in-person classes, forming relationships with professors, and being able to be involved in the things I love, like theatre, are all opening up. It will be cool to see what campus looks like in full swing.”