As the spring 2021 semester winds toward a close, students and faculty have questions about the upcoming fall semester. With incredibly rapid distribution efforts of the COVID-19 vaccine, confirmed cases and deaths across the country have been on a sharp decline, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although nationwide inoculations and promising data are making way for an exciting fall, it does not come without elements of underlying stress.
As Flagstaff begins preparations to welcome in-person students back in August, questions of employment, social gatherings and overall safety are of utmost concern for many. The University of Arizona’s Eller Economic and Business Research Center found the Flagstaff employment rate was down almost 15% in the third quarter of 2020 compared to the third quarter of 2019. Paralleling these numbers, the overall unemployment rate has risen by 43.67% during the same period. Trends like these can prove disheartening, especially for students trying to find minimum wage, part-time work.
Junior Carly Logan is concerned about her next and final year at NAU. Logan said her job working for the university has been helpful in paying for some of the expenses associated with student living; however, the hours are simply not enough.
“[My work] is satisfying and I am happy that I have some form of income coming in every week,” Logan said. “During the semester I am more focused on my education than anything, but over breaks I need the extra work. It’s like whenever I try to apply for a second job, the spot is gone before I can even get an application in.”
Logan’s situation is not unique either. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) stated nearly 43% of undergraduate students work either part-time or full-time during their educational careers, per the NCES website. With inflation and living costs rising, making rent payments and covering basic utilities will continue to become more of a challenge for young students, most of whom do not have adequate paychecks nor savings to cover living expenses.
With distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines moving at unprecedented speeds, more and more people are becoming hopeful about the coming months. According to the Coconino County Health and Human Services data dashboard, at least 63,608 residents of Coconino County have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of April 14. In addition, 47,509 residents are fully vaccinated against the virus, bringing the percentage of vaccinated residents to roughly 43.2%.
With CDC guidelines frequently changing due to more people being able to get the vaccine, optimism is brimming. Business owners and patrons will be given the chance to return to old hangouts and social attractions. NAU students are no exception to the feelings of hope and relief as well.
Junior Ellie Johnson said she misses the times when everyone was able to physically meet up for social events, back when Zoom was still a relatively unknown digital tool.
“I think I miss the ability to actually be present on campus throughout the week,” Johnson said. “Zoom is a good alternative for right now, but I know I prefer being in the classroom [and] many of my friends feel the same way. I am looking forward to a semester of having a legitimately full classroom with an engaged teacher, not just three or four students sitting 20 feet away from each other.”
Logan explained missing out on in-person events was a hit to her college career, and mentioned she hopes to finish her time in higher education in a setting more closely associated with society’s definition of normal.
“I haven’t minded Zoom university, but I am definitely getting tired of it,” Logan said. “I hope my last two semesters can be more like my first two years of college. Safety is my first priority, and if [the CDC] says it is OK for vaccinated people to gather in an education setting, then that is what I am hoping to do. Trusting the science and moving forward is all we can do.”
Although both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are proven to have a nearly 95% efficacy rate, one of the highest marks ever achieved in a vaccine, many citizens are still skeptical. A recent NPR/Marist poll found roughly one in every four Americans believe they will not need nor receive a COVID-19 vaccine. According to the poll, this 25% of the population can put herd immunity at risk and delay the already prolonged stay-at-home orders, occupancy limits and business closures.
Junior Traveling Wolf Weber said he believes vaccination efforts will help with the upcoming fall semester, but it may be too early to say one way or the other. Weber recently received the Moderna vaccine on a trip back home to Southern California.
“I think there will obviously still be masks and social distancing,” Weber said. “[Hopefully] it will be more normal than what we have been doing with all of this online school.”
Weber stated he feels people are entitled to their own beliefs and opinions on vaccines, but the use of masks needs to stay in place. When asked about memories on pre-COVID college experiences, Weber mentioned he misses the social interactions.
“Everyone is entitled to whatever they want to believe on this vaccine,” Weber said. “If you don’t get vaccinated, that’s fine, but people need to realize that is why masks will stay in place and social distancing efforts will remain the same. I truly miss the campus life as it was with everyone bustling around and the social buzz overall. I feel much less connected to my fellow classmates now, and I hope next year can provide a respite before many of us go into the real world.”
Vaccine outreach is expected to continue to grow and become more widely available to every American age 18 and over. Per a press release by President Joe Biden from April 6, all adults nationwide will have access to the vaccine by no later than April 19.
With more optimistic news coming out on a daily basis, the hopes of NAU students for a return to pseudo-normal schooling continues to grow. Receiving a vaccination now greatly affects Flagstaff’s future. A sore arm today means the Lumberjacks of NAU will be able to raise their ax higher tomorrow.