Comm 170, Indoors Social Distancing

Students masking and sitting distantly from each other during class in Biobehavioral Health Building at Penn State University, on Tuesday, September 29, 2020. This is a hybrid class where the instructor divides 105 students into four groups and rotate one group each class to be in-person while the rest participate on Zoom.

As Penn State announced classes would start in person this semester, my State College friends’ group chat buzzed with sighs of relief.

We all feared the return to remote learning — albeit temporarily — and believed the university made the right decision in sticking to its original in-person plan.

Now, back here in State College with classes resuming, it's clear students are about as safe here as they could be anywhere else.

Penn State students, without being required to, are 89.7% fully vaccinated. This number is significantly higher than the majority of communities in the United States.

While more transmissible, the omicron variant, now the dominant strain, is not as deadly, with one study showing it is half as likely to lead to hospitalizations as the delta variant, according to the New York Times.

In regard to students, deaths in the age group of 18-29 account for about 0.06% of the over 800,000 coronavirus deaths in the U.S., meaning the death rate for college-age students is exceptionally low. With omicron being even less deadly than previous strains, students shouldn’t feel worried.

With the Penn State community being relatively vaccinated, the chance of death is minimal for those who got the jab.

I don’t feel unsafe in State College. In fact, I feel safer here than being back home. Back home, I’d still be going out to bars or restaurants, working at my job in food service or hanging out in groups.

Some may argue just because the students are safe and university employees are fairly well protected, the influx of people back is a danger to the State College community. Centre County is about 57% fully vaccinated as of Jan. 11.

The data is clear — if you’re unvaccinated, you’re at a greater chance of both contracting the disease and dying from it. In Pennsylvania alone from January 2021 to December 2021, 85% of positive tests and 86% of coronavirus related deaths were unvaccinated/non-fully vaccinated people.

There have been three working vaccines available for months. If someone chose not to get vaccinated, that’s their freedom of choice. If they die from the coronavirus, that’s on them.

Although I never mind being away from campus, I have plenty of friends who I know struggle with being back home and have a difficult time mentally being away. For the student age group, it’s in all likelihood far more damaging to struggle with the mental effects of staying home, rather than the mild coronavirus symptoms our age will likely face.

Students have shown in their first days back that they still understand the masking rules and they’re willing to follow the university’s rules that kept students safe in the fall.

As it's becoming evidently clear that the coronavirus is going to become something we have to live with rather than something we can eradicate, students still have a responsibility to keep their community safe.

To continue making sure the spring semester can go as smoothly as the fall, Penn Staters must keep following university guidelines and getting tested when feeling sick to make sure we can stay here and in person.

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