In mid-March 2020, around the time most of America shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, Stephanie Washington decided to go on her spring break trip to Miami, even after hearing reports of rising Covid-19 cases.
As the Clark Atlanta University student ate brunch near South Beach with a sorority line sister, she received an email from the university’s president. In the letter, CAU president George T. French, Jr. outlined safety precautions the school was taking in response to the deepening public health crisis.
“I felt like people were overreacting at the time,” Washington said. “I thought, ‘It can’t be that bad; it’s probably like the flu. … It’s gonna be over very soon.’”
Following spring break 2020, several colleges reported coronavirus outbreaks. One of the most prominent happened at the University of Texas at Austin, where 33% of students who traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, tested positive for Covid-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Most of those students were asymptomatic, and there were no reports of severe illnesses or deaths.
Now a year later, some college students have ventured to Miami for spring break 2021 despite the ongoing pandemic.
“I essentially just decided to go (with my friend) on the spot,” said Brandie Green, a student at Clark Atlanta University, who plans to visit South Beach with friends.
“After hours of searching for flights and a place to stay, we finally found something, so we decided to go,” said Green. “I am not really worried about anything. I just know that I have to wear my mask and take extreme caution when I’m out.”
In Miami Beach, government officials increased the presence of police officers, enforced a curfew and limited parking in South Beach. Ernesto Rodriguez, public information officer for the Miami Beach Police Department, said there was zero tolerance for people who cause trouble.
“Our community is not ‘an anything goes community,’’’ said Rodriguez. “As with any spring break period, oftentimes, what we’ve seen and things we’ve seen in years are students who come to Miami Beach … and then act in a way they wouldn’t act back at home and that’s what we’re going to have zero tolerance for.”
A year ago, Washington started packing to move back home after returning from her Florida trip. Within three days, she had loaded her belongings and drove the more than 500 miles to her family’s home in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she would finish the rest of her semester virtually.
Washington’s abrupt move echoed college students’ lives across the nation.
Autumn Hargett, a student at SUNY Oneonta, experienced an immediate sense of uncertainty. “I did not know who this was going to affect and how greatly,” she said. “It was hard to feel any hope because the numbers were rising. I was scared to go outside most days.”
“I am a hands-on/in-person learner,” said Caslyn Gordon, a student at SUNY Oneonta. “Learning from a computer screen does not work for me because I get distracted easily… and I don’t feel like I am absorbing any real information.”
With the approach of the fall 2020 semester, most people realized that the coronavirus was not going away. To help stem the tide of Covid-19 cases, colleges opted for more safety precautions, even some travel restrictions for students, including replacing spring break 2021 with wellness days throughout the semester.
“I have underlying conditions, so I appreciate the constant disinfecting of the campus, weekly Covid-19 testing, the 6-feet markers and things of that nature,” Gordon said. “It makes me feel a lot safer, especially seeing how reckless the students of my school were last semester.”
While students are comfortable with the restrictions, the lack of a mid-semester break concerned many others.
“We are going straight through the semester with no breaks,” Hargett said. “It is just a lot in a virtual setting, especially since the workload has been increased to substitute for not being in-person.”
“The guidance from the SUNY system for all colleges and universities was to eliminate spring break to maintain the health and safety of our campus communities by reducing travel,” said Leamor Kahanov, provost & vice president for academic affairs at SUNY Oneonta. “We, at Oneonta, recognized the need for mental health rest and recovery and therefore, identified wellness days as an alternative.”
Vickie Jester, director of Counseling and Disability Services at Clark Atlanta University, said the pandemic required a great transition for students. “The relationships with their professors and (being) on campus is very important,” she said. “We saw more people (with) depression and anxiety.”
Jester suggested that college students should continue to not only reach out and ask for help but also see a therapist, rest, and exercise. “Be gentle on yourself,” she said. “Know that it’s okay to not be okay. We will get through this, and things won’t go back to the way they were and that’s okay. We’ll create a new normal.”
Elizabeth Lana, owner of LanaTravels, an independent travel business, said that while the pandemic slowed business, she continues to receive travel inquiries — mainly for May to July 2021.
Lana said people want to travel, but they “are worried that if they do travel internationally and they take the (coronavirus) test and they get a positive result, what happens next,” she said. “That’s something that a lot of people are fearful of, and also, I know a problem was having to pay more than $100 for a (coronavirus) test internationally.”
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