Some UMass students have found a way to stay safe while making the most of their college experience

With vaccines coming through and the weather getting warmer, UMass students have found ways to normalize their college experience

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Ana Pietrewicz/Daily Collegian

By Sofi Shlepakov, Collegian Staff

For over a year now, the world has started living in a “new” normal. Distancing six feet apart, wearing masks and getting weekly COVID-19 tests has been a normal aspect in many students’ lives that go to the University of Massachusetts. Now, with vaccinations moving along and the weather getting nice, many students feel hope that one day the “new normal” we live in now will eventually pass.

Going to a school with 22,000 students, there was a big shift from seeing thousands of new faces every day to not being able to access certain buildings or eat in a dining hall with your friends. Students who live on and off campus in the Amherst area had to take it upon themselves to adhere to this routine while still trying to get the most of their college experience.

Freshman management major Riley Linden said that UMass hosting safe outdoor events and setting up tents outside of the dining hall has helped students stay safe while also giving them the feeling of the college experience rather than confining students to dorms.

“It seems with the improving situation; UMass has been able to adapt. Setting up the tents outside the dining halls has been cool so you can sit with more than one or two other people,” Linden said.

The outdoor weather has helped students, especially freshman, who live on campus, have a safer way to make friends.

“Just being able to be outside makes it a lot easier to be social, because when you’re inside you always run the risk of either getting people sick or getting in trouble because you’re with other people,” Linden added.

Senior Maya Watanabe, a mathematics and English double major, lives off campus and socializes with the same group of people who also live in her building. Being a senior, she notices the drastic difference in her college experience but has made the most of it by finding activities to stay safe while also having fun.

Having already having an established group of friends, Watanabe said she feels lucky although this year looked a lot different to her previous years at UMass.

“I’ve been thinking about a lot because I’m a senior, on one hand it really does stink that not everybody is here, but on the other hand, I think I’m luckier because I already had a group of friends established,” Watanabe said.

“I can’t imagine trying to like do online school and trying to make friends at the same time without actually being there, and there aren’t those spontaneous moments where you meet somebody in a class,” Watanabe added.

Watanabe and her friends have established a routine of getting outside, whether it is enjoying hikes, watching the sunset or just getting takeout and enjoying the outdoors.

Linden said that he is grateful that he was able to meet new friends with common interests in a safe way, even though he at first found it difficult, he thinks that he has done a good job of staying safe while also making the most of his first year in college by socializing with a bubble of people in his dorm.

Linden has gotten his first dose of the vaccine and said, “it seems like a lot of my friends are doing the same thing too, so it’s kind of it’s nice to see that everyone’s on the same page about it.”

Assistant professor and researcher Andrew Lover said that getting vaccinated is the step in the right direction to putting an end to the pandemic and that in Massachusetts about 20 percent of the population has received at least their first dose but to wait before fully letting your guard down.

“There’s really nowhere near enough to really start impacting transmission. It’s really a matter of just being a little bit more patient for a bit longer, but that’s a hard thing after a year of everyone being very challenged,” Lover said.

With vaccines rolling out and the nice weather helping social gatherings become safer, Lover urges students to continue to follow Center of Disease Control guidelines in order to keep those who are not vaccinated safe.

“If you’re on the two-dose variant to dose for vaccines. It’s either 10 or 14 days before you’re considered fully vaccinated. In that period, you still need to be just as careful,” Lover said.

The CDC said that those who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors with other vaccinated people without having to wear a mask and can also gather indoors with low-risk people as long as it is kept to one household.

With information about the effectiveness of the vaccine still coming in, and with campus continuing to see a promising trend in positivity rates, Lover suggests for students to continue to wear their masks and try and get outside in order to be as safe as possible.

Sofi Shlepakov can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SShlepakov.