College freshmen navigate brave new COVID-19 world

College freshmen navigate brave new COVID-19 world

BOSTON — New Jersey, San Antonio, Minnetonka, Minnesota. The collegiate melting pot that is Boston is still Boston this fall -- despite Covid-19. They’re just packing, with their dreams and a supply of masks.

“I think everybody’s trying because nobody wants to get sent home,” said Lisa Abdelhak, a freshman at Northeastern University, majoring in business and theatre.

Abdelhak and three other freshmen know that is a definite possibility for violating college gathering rules -- as eleven NU freshmen were sent home just days ago, after congregating in a room at the Westin Hotel in Copley Place, which the college is using for housing.

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“I’m glad that Northeastern is setting a precedent of taking things seriously,” said Zach Greenwald, who called the Westin incident unfortunate. “I think all of us here want to stay on campus and we all have to be responsible.”

Greenwald first began eyeing Northeastern his sophomore year of high school. He doesn’t miss his home state of Minnesota yet -- only the good coffee shops there.

Greenwald doesn’t consider the school’s strict social distancing policy all bad. It netted him a single when he thought he’d have roommates. Added bonus: “I kind of have my own bathroom so that’s very, very nice.”

Still, it is rather stunning that what would have seemed macabre a year ago, is now just part of the campus landscape.

For example, as students arrived at Wentworth Institute of Technology, signs directed vehicles to ‘arrival testing’ sites.

At Northeastern, the testing is never-ending.

Students face their first Covid-19 test on arrival, then three and five days later. But that’s just the beginning. On and off-campus students will subsequently be tested every three days thereafter.

Freshmen Sanjana Shastri is grateful the school is staying on top of it.

“Especially when we’re around people I just feel safer around campus because I know everyone’s being tested,” she said.

Shastri is from New Jersey -- a state that took a hard hit from Covid-19 about the same time as Massachusetts did and still ranks second in the nation, behind New York, for most number of Covid-19 deaths, at just under 16,000, the CDC reports.

Chloe Steele, a freshman majoring in International Relations, says dorm life isn’t exactly what she planned on. “We’re not really allowed to hang out in the hallways or each other’s rooms at all,” she said.

But Steele said she feels safer in Massachusetts from the virus than in her home state of Texas, where the case count exceeds 665,000 and more than 13,000 have died, according to The New York Times.

Despite the masks and restrictions on gatherings, Abdelhak, also from New Jersey, feels fortunate she’s getting some taste of college -- because she knows others who are not. “I feel like we’re definitely really lucky compared to a lot of other schools that I know,” she said. “A bunch of my friends are all on line.”

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether campus life can sustain for the duration of the academic year. Colleges and universities are, unfortunately, proving easy stomping grounds for Covid-19 when universal precautions aren’t  taken to prevent transmission. And the results can be enormously disruptive.

For example, while many college students spent Labor Day weekend moving in, students housed at the University of California - Chico faced a September 6th deadline to move out of residence halls -- after Covid-19 cases popped up in most of them.

In ordering students to vacate, UC-Chico’s president warned the spreading virus could have an “exponential and devastating effect” on the campus.

“The well-being of students makes quick action imperative,” wrote University President Gayle Hutchinson. “Simply put, we need students out of the residence halls as quickly as possible for their own safety.”

The school will  transition to a virtual-only model for the rest of fall semester.

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