AU plans to return to a “new normal” in the fall

Students+and+faculty+are+no+longer+required+to+wear+masks+when+outside+on+campus.+

Evan Laux

Students and faculty are no longer required to wear masks when outside on campus.

Evan Laux, NEWS & OPINION EDITOR

On the week of March 8, Ashland University announced plans to considerably expand face-to-face activities and instruction for the fall 2021 term. 

The statement comes amid infection rates continually dropping and plans for the vaccination of the campus community. Slowly but surely, Ashland University is returning to a sense of normal.

In the announcement, AU President Dr. Carlos Campo explained that the university’s “intent is to  return to 2019 practices as much as possible.” 

While AU acknowledges that conditions are always subject to change in current times, the plan is to slowly institute cautious and safe step-down procedures to the current coronavirus protocols and restrictions. Limited mask wearing, symptom monitoring, testing and quarantine/isolation protocols will likely continue as necessary during the transitional period. 

Most recently, the university dropped the requirement to wear masks outside on campus while socially distanced. Indoors, masks are still required. 

“I think it’s definitely progress and something worth celebrating,” Covid Coordinator Elise Riggle said. “When you haven’t been able to walk through the campus and breathe fresh air in so long, it just feels amazing.”

Campo said that he has already noticed a shift in atmosphere on campus.

“It’s funny because just the other day, a beautiful sunny day, there were some students out in the quad and they were loud, remarkably loud,” Campo said. “They were just enjoying life and I thought to myself ‘it shouldn’t feel that strange to have students in the quad again,’ but it really did, and it was wonderfully strange.”

Riggle says that the move to lessened Covid-19 protocols is only possible because of students’ continued compliance to the AU Stronger Together Safer Together Covid-19 response initiative. 

While AU has stayed open for the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year, many other schools have shut down or suffered similar alterations to academic availability. 

The College of Wooster moved all classes to online learning in late October last year, and the Ohio State University requires all students living in residence buildings to complete a saliva test weekly. Failure to comply with any testing may result in a loss of access to non-residential spaces and a report to Student Conduct.

“I really think that’s a testament to the students here – that there’s no consequence to not showing up, but they still do,” Riggle said. “It just shows that people are happy to be here under the circumstances and although it stinks, everyone is trying to do the best they can and be safe. That’s what being an Ashland Eagle is.”

AU now has plans to administer vaccinations to the campus community, hopefully by the end of the semester. Students will not be required to get the vaccine, but are heavily encouraged.

Riggle adds that while AU is officially an approved site for vaccinations, there are many unknowns. The university is unsure when they will receive the vaccines, how many they will get, and what type of vaccines they are (Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, or Janssen [Johnson and Johnson]). 

“We also know that if we give the first dose, the expectation is that we’ll get the second dose,” Riggle said. “And we know that the last day of classes is Apr. 30 so we need to give the first dose by March 30th, and any of our traditional students won’t be eligible until March 29.”

The Ashland County Health Department also recently announced its next wave of vaccination clinics, with eligibility opening to ages 16 and older after March 29, with the scheduling underway for a clinic Friday, April 2, from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. at UH Samaritan.

Further information about changing Covid-19 protocols and vaccinations will be sent to AU students over the coming weeks, with a more defined look into the fall semester being announced in early April.

“We are leaving it up to individuals to decide if they want the vaccine, but just consider that if we could get to a 70% or higher threshold, I think in a sense we could be in an Ashland bubble,” Campo said. “And really as we’ve done really well even with Covid in our mix, how great would it be if we could get to the fall and know we’ve got a sort of herd immunity and we’re close to being back to normal?”