By Harrison Neville
After a year of living under the restrictions of COVID-19, many members of the UM community reacted with relief to the announcement that the University of Montevallo would be returning to in-person classes in the fall.
However, while the decision to go to in-person classes has been made, very little additional information has been made available at this time. Overall, it appears that a large number of the UM community support the return to in-person classes in the fall, but they vary on what exactly they want to the return to look like.
Most of those who The Alabamian reached out to agreed that they would encourage everyone to get vaccinated in the fall.
Some such mathematics professor Dr. Benton Tyler, would encourage everyone to be vaccinated, but “[does] not personally think it should be a requirement to return to classes or work.”
Dr. Tyler, along with all of the faculty and staff who responded to The Alabamian, has been vaccinated.
“My personal belief is why would anyone NOT want to be vaccinated,” said Jason Quarles, the director of dining services in an email with The Alabamian.
This viewpoint seems to be a widely shared one, and Dr. Cathlena Martin, the associate professor for the game studies and design minor as well as the director for the honors program, suggested that there might be a precedent to require the COVID-19 vaccine due to the vaccines already required by the university.
Currently, all students are required to have immunization for measles; other vaccines are encouraged, but not required.
Similarly, Valerie Flynn, a sophomore art major, stated that she would “expect them [the university] to” require vaccinations for COVID-19.
According to Flynn, “others who can get vaccinated absolutely should, because it’s a good safety precaution for the public as well as themselves.”
Sophomore theatre major, Joe Keegan expressed that he saw the vaccine as a way to achieve “normalcy.”
“If everyone on campus was vaccinated, then it would ease a lot of fears for everyone and hopefully speed up the return to normalcy,” said Keegan.
Not everyone agreed with this viewpoint.
Amanda “Amy” Brown, the University Mail Services Coordinator, expressed concern over the idea of required vaccinations. Brown stated she had no intentions for being vaccinated, and “I don’t believe others should be required to be vaccinated.”
Brown explained that due to religious reasons, she did not wish to be vaccinated.
Of course, vaccines are not the only method of prevention against COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, the Center for Disease Control has advocated the wearing of mask as one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus.
Despite the possible vaccination of the majority of campus, it is still uncertain whether or not the university will continue to require masks in the fall.
“If Covid-positive numbers are extremely small when August comes, I don’t think the University should have a mask mandate,” said Tyler. “Having said that, I do think that many students, faculty, and staff will choose to continue to wear masks.”
“I fully support wearing a mask in the fall, especially if it means we can have face to face classes that are not socially distanced,” said Martin. “Wearing a mask seems a small inconvenience to help stop the spread and to keep everyone safe as we try to return back to a physical normal.”
This sentiment was echoed by associate professor of theatre and faculty senate president professor Emily Gill, who sees the mask as a potential boon to public health as a whole.
“We’ve all gone to class or work with ‘vague respiratory congestion’ that could be allergies, could be a cold, could be over-achieving AC. If we start wearing a mask on those days, we might see overall better public health,” said Gill.
Even if the university chooses not to require it, many members of the community have already expressed their intent to continue to wear mask.
“Chartwells hasn’t decided on masks for staff but I foresee my staff remaining in masks or at least allowing them that option. Many are older and prefer the safety of the mask,” said Quarles.
Gill suggested that perhaps individual professors should be allowed to decide their mask policies, saying, “I think we need to watch variants closely, especially in terms of air transmission and take into account our campus density. I think a professor should be able to set a mask requirement for their classroom, they may have a family member or themself who is still at a high risk, but they need to work (sic).”
“I hope that they are not worn. It’s so much easier to breathe without them,” said Keegan.
Currently, there are a lot of factors making the fall semester an uncertainty. Various members of COVID-19 task force have stated that it will continue to meet throughout the summer and into the fall, but it will likely be closer to fall before a decision will be made.
This is a cause for concern for some, like Flynn who expressed anxiousness over the return in the fall, saying, “I am just very unsure of what the future looks like, truthfully.”
Martin also expressed some concerns, but said she is “cautiously optimistic about the fall.”
Quarles noted the advances that had been made in the community regarding COVID-19 and the number of vaccines. According to Quarles, most of his staff had taken advantage of vaccine opportunities on campus and were now vaccinated.
“I feel comfortable about the fall, a lot more comfortable than I felt in the fall of 2020 when no one had vaccines and Covid was running rampant in the community,” said Quarles.