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Return to face-to-face: positive advancement or premature mistake?

The main question on almost everyone’s mind since COVID-19 struck in early 2020 is “when will my life go back to normal?”

The University of South Carolina Upstate is pushing to help make the new normal a reality by urging face-to-face classes to commence in the fall.

On March 11, Upstate announced its plan to resume in-person classes and on-campus activities this fall. Safety measures will remain in place despite the advancement towards pre-pandemic life, including mask requirements, regular cleaning and disinfection of campus spaces, illness reporting, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and enforcing quarantine protocols.

South Carolina is still experiencing an average of 1,089 new cases on a seven-day basis, according to the most recent data in the New York Times. This raises the question as to whether reverting to normality is premature and if it could consequentially backtrack the progress that has been made to keep students safe.

The mask requirement and other precautions creates a barrier of protection for faculty and students, but without the vaccine being readily available to the public, urging face-to-face activity poses an unnecessary risk that online learning eliminates.

Aside from the health risks associated with the return to face-to-face classes, there are other factors that are concerning students given the adjustment they have already undergone.

A sophomore Upstate student said, “I feel like it’s going to be a failure because after the past year of students being able to see how easy of access they have to higher education, that forcing students to go back in-person will never be the same, solely because of the accessibility to cheating, outside resources, the convenience to waking up five minutes before their class starts, having their zoom cameras off and saying they’re present in class without truly being present.”

The student acknowledged the danger of this to institutions because it not only takes away from the full college experience of attending athletic events, living on-campus and participating in Greek life, but it also creates a financial risk as students are not participating in these activities that generate income.

Returning to face-to-face classes will be unsuccessful after having the digital experience, another student said. “People have gotten used to how things are going.”

Some students believe that attendance rates will be significantly lower despite enrollment because people are used to not having to show up. They say there will be “people out there who are going to be concerned about Coronavirus and people are going to be hesitant to come back out of fear – especially those who are living with family members who are immunocompromised.”

Upstate is attempting to take strides returning to normality, but COVID-19 numbers are still high, and its students have adjusted to this new normal of education. It may now be a case where going back to life before the pandemic is no longer an option, but instead, universities need to find a way to adjust and progress towards what is now the new normal for college students.

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