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Classes are 'as normal as they've been' with UVM spring semester underway, though COVID fears linger

A large brick building with a green grass yard in front on it.
P Donovan
Students returned to the University of Vermont this week for the spring semester.

Just over 11,000 undergraduates resumed classes this week at the University of Vermont. The start of the spring semester comes as the state continues to report a flurry of new COVID cases and record breaking hospitalizations — a trend expected to continue through the month.

Since the beginning of January, nearly 350 UVM students have tested positive for COVID, according to the college’s dashboard. The school has not published numbers for this week.

To learn more about how the start of the semester has gone, VPR's Liam Elder-Connors spoke with Samuel Pasqualoni, president of UVM’s Student Government Association. Their conversation is below and has been edited for clarity.

Liam Elder-Connors: The university encouraged students to get tested before returning to campus, and required them to get tested after arriving. Students are required to get swabbed again five to seven days after that. Do you think the university has put enough precautions in place to have a safe, successful semester?

A man in a blue suit stands in front of a building.
Courtesy of Samuel Pasqualoni
Samuel Pasqualoni is president of the University of Vermont's Student Government Association

Samuel Pasqualoni: I think it's difficult to gauge what entirely is the most preventative we can be in terms of omicron right now. Students are required to have both rounds of the vaccine and a booster to come back to class. So, I think that is one step that has been made. However, there's no required testing like there was during the last academic year, which at one point was required twice a week. Right now, what we have is required tests as we come back to school this week. However, this isn't something that lasts the entire semester or school year, as we saw in the past.

So how was this first week back then? Were classes kind of normal? How are people feeling?

I think classes are about as normal as they've been, in terms of what we saw last semester. Students are back on campus, in dorms and classrooms. But there are a few more asynchronous or completely online classes offered right now compared to last semester.

I think that students are excited to be back on campus. However, I do think that there is a lingering fear of, you know, "Will UVM shut down? Will they send us home?" Not dissimilar to what happened to us about two years ago, and what's happening at a few other universities across the country.

UVM has had a vaccine mandate for students and is requiring students to get the booster. Was there any pushback on that from classmates and peers?

That's a really good question. To be quite frank, no. I receive a lot of emails a week from students, faculty and staff. And not one of those in the past few months has been regarding concerns about this vaccine mandate, or even the booster mandate. I think that the most pushback I've heard was students saying, "Oh, man, it's really tough to find an appointment nearby because so many people are getting it right now." Which maybe is indicative of good things, if so many people are trying to get this booster.

As you look towards the next weeks and months of this semester, Samuel, what are you hoping it looks like?

It's tough, because my ideal would be that there's no COVID — that I'm able to enjoy my last semester of college without having to follow any of these guidelines, whether it's for my own or others' safety. But that just isn't feasible. So I think maybe the realistic answer would be that students are relatively cautious. You know — everyone's vaccinated and boosted, and we're able to maybe loosen some of the restrictions. I just think it would be very nice for me — I don't know about others — but it would be very nice for me to be able to go back out there and experience my last few months in Vermont without having to worry about this virus, which has encroached on basically everybody's life at this point.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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