After two years, the halls and parking lots of St. Thomas University are filling up once more as students arrive for the full return of in-person classes.
New Brunswick Public Health lifted COVID-19 mandates in April, just a few weeks before the end of term. Jeffrey Carleton, STU’s associate vice-president of communications, said the school decided to leave COVID-19 mandates in place at the time since students underwent many changes last year.
Carleton said successfully hosting spring and summer graduations with only mask requirements played a part in the decision-making process for the COVID-19 mandates STU kept in place for this year.
“What we did is we lifted all restrictions except for masking in indoor common spaces,” he said, noting that the decision to continue mandatory masking in classrooms was because students are required to go to class in enclosed spaces.
Students can now take off their masks when they’re eating, drinking or seated alone and distanced. Professors who are teaching and students who present in class are not required to wear a mask, provided they are distanced from classmates.
Carleton said masking is encouraged, but not required in residences, saying that residences are being treated as a student’s home. Despite a possible rise in COVID-19 cases this fall, Carleton said STU will not verify vaccination status.
“If you take a step back and look at everything, there’s a real emphasis on each individual managing their own personal risk and making a decision based on their circumstance,” said Carleton.
First-year student Tahlia Mallaley said she feels safe with the current rules and believes the mandates inside of the residences should stay as it is.
“I don’t think we have to change anything,” she said, adding that she likes students having the choice of whether or not to mask.
“Those who want to wear masks can, but those who don’t shouldn’t have to,” she said.
Olivia Gould, a second-year student, is happy to be back for in-person classes. She found herself distracted and unmotivated when the majority of classes were online.
“I prefer in-person classes. I learn best in a classroom setting and I think that in-person classes are important for fostering in-class discussions,” she said.
Gould said a potential rise in COVID-19 cases does make her slightly nervous, but as of now, she hasn’t felt uncomfortable with the number of people on campus.
“I am enjoying being back at STU and I’m happy there are so many more students,” she said. “I think it is important to remember that we are still, unfortunately, living in a pandemic, even when it is not directly affecting us.”