DOVER — When he first found out that his return to Delaware State University would be delayed by two weeks, Charles Anyanwu had flashbacks to the spring of his freshman year in 2020.
“It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going on break and we might not come back,’” he said. “But at the same time, I saw it coming because of how this new omicron variant has come on in recent weeks.”
Mr. Anyanwu is now a junior and is grateful to be back on campus engaging in face-to-face instruction and extracurriculars. So if staying on campus means getting a booster shot too, he believes most students will be on board.
“I know there are still some people that may still be hesitant towards the booster because they didn’t expect that they needed it,” he said. “But I think that a major player is thinking ‘I don’t want to miss school’ and ‘If this is the only way I can be on campus, then I guess I’ll have to take it.’”
Universities across the country are delaying students’ return to campus and mandating booster shots for students, faculty and staff, including Delaware State University. DSU announced Dec. 23 that all students are required to receive a booster shot before returning to campus, and that their return will be delayed by two weeks to allot extra time for students to do so. Classes will still start on time, but will be held virtually in those two weeks.
“We dramatically increase our chances of holding infection rates down by taking these additional two weeks,” said DSU spokesman Steve Newton. “It gives us a couple of weeks to ramp up our capacity. And a lot of our students and our staff already have boosters because they’re already uploading them to our portal.”
Mr. Newton said that barring any major changes in the statewide or national situation, the school doesn’t anticipate delaying students’ return to campus by more than two weeks.
“We intend to be back here face to face by January 21st,” he said. “What we’re responding to is taking the time to gather information on what we know does and doesn’t work at this point with the extreme volatility of the omicron variant … we’re being told by the experts that the problem is not as much people getting sick and having symptoms, it’s the number of positives we’re going to hit, or that we could potentially have.”
Mr. Anyanwu remains optimistic that these two weeks will be the only online instruction he’ll have to endure in 2022 since COVID cases on campus were well below national averages this fall.
“I feel more confident now than I did freshman year about coming back because we have boosters and vaccines now and we have all the protocols that we’ve been following already in place,” he said. “With these two extra weeks I’m optimistic that everyone will get their booster. I think the administration at DelState and the faculty and staff are well prepared.”
Mr. Anyanwu is also an assistant coach for the girls tennis team and was worried that the delayed return would impact teams practicing and competing. He said winter sports squads currently in season won’t be able to compete in the first two weeks of the semester and the start date for spring teams to start practice will be delayed in that time as well.
“I don’t think, as of right now, it’s had too much of an impact,” Mr. Anyanwi said. “It’s a matter of what happens when we do go back if anything else comes up that might be an issue. But overall I think sports are in a fairly good spot in terms of continuing the rest of the winter sports season then going into the spring season.”
An easy choice
DSU senior Nia Pope said she wasn’t expecting a booster mandate until she saw other universities like the University of Delaware and HBCUs like Howard University start to implement them.
“I was kind of going back and forth whether I wanted the booster or not, but then right before Christmas break I got COVID too so I was like ‘I guess I have to get the booster now,’” Ms. Pope said. “I’m happy I had the vaccine because it could have been a lot worse. I only had like two bad days out of the whole l0 days I had to quarantine.”
Ms. Pope said when it comes to choosing between getting a booster shot or moving classes back online, she’ll take the jab every time.
“I actually put back graduating because I want the whole nine for graduation,” she said. “So for me, (going back online) would personally suck and I’m hoping it doesn’t have to get to that point. I’m hoping that everyone just trusts the school and listens.”
Ms. Pope said that although she feels her grades got better while she was taking classes online, she missed out on socialization. She lives at home and commutes to campus. So she said the pandemic took a toll on her mental health.
“The part that I was missing, that actually was the worst for me, was person-to-person communication and not just seeing my mom and my brother every day,” she said. “Mental health wise, being in person was better for me because I wasn’t just doing homework at home all the time and feeling like I’m being pressed in my bedroom.”
Mr. Newton said most students feel the same as Ms. Pope. He noted there are already around 250 students who stayed on campus over the holidays for various reasons. DSU is working with students who already have their flights or travel plans booked to return to campus, which starts with whether they’ve had a booster yet or can get one before coming back.
“Our kids don’t want to be home,” he said. “The spring of 2020 was horrible for most of our kids. It’s not like a university where most kids go home to well-appointed homes with really good internet and everything else. They need to be here because they need the tutoring services, the counseling, the medical, they need the food, they need the housing security.”
Mr. Newton added the new CDC guidelines for asymptomatic COVID cases helps DSU and will cut down on the time that students have to miss class if they test positive.
“It is much less disruptive and depending on where that (positive test) falls … if you find out you’re positive on a Thursday morning, that basically is accounted for by one college student’s long weekend. Worst case scenario, if you’re asymptomatic, is that you would miss one week of face-to-face classes and then we have to provide facilities for kids who can’t or don’t go home for a maximum of one week. And in the fall, we stayed heavily asymptomatic on the positive cases.”