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Colleges prepare for fall semester as Delta variant continues to spread

Madison Ruffo
WRVO Public Media

Colleges are now entering their fourth semester of learning during the pandemic, and as Onondaga Community College’s president, Casey Crabill, says–things are a lot different now.

“We had no treatments, we had no vaccine, we had no real clear science behind our understanding of this virus, and so things went remote,” said Crabill. “That is not the case now.”

Crabill is determined to have her students off of zoom and in the classroom. But as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across most of the country, many students and parents are nervous about being around so many people.

“We understand that there's some apprehension around this,” said LeMoyne College’s interim provost, Jim Hannan. “We wish and we thought just a few weeks ago that we were in better condition. I think much of the country thought that.”

At Onondaga Community College, students and staff are required to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Once the vaccines are approved by the Food and Drug Administration–OCC, along with all other SUNY colleges, will make vaccinations mandatory.

“So for students who are thinking about coming back to a SUNY campus, it'd be great to get your vaccine started now if you haven't already dealt with that,” said Crabill.

While SUNY has yet to mandate a vaccine for all of its colleges, SUNY Oswego is one step ahead. There, they've required all residential students to be vaccinated in an effort to give their students as normal of an experience as possible.

"The act of getting vaccinated is helping our campus community restore as much campus activity and engagement this fall,” said Wayne Westervelt, the Chief Communications Officer for the college.

At LeMoyne, students and staff are also required to show proof of vaccination status and to wear masks indoors. Hannan said he recently talked to some students about the reinstated mask mandate and he was surprised by their conversation.

“She said, ‘oh, it's not so bad,’” he said. “She said, ‘we're all here together, and we don't have to wear them outside.’ And I just thought that was nice. She's like, ‘we can handle this. We're okay.’”

While the Delta variant poses a very serious threat, administrators are optimistic about this semester. That’s not to say they aren’t prepared for the worst.

“If our own campus conditions, county or state conditions suggest otherwise, we would be able to transition to instruction that's not in person,” said Hannan.

Crabill, Hannan, and Westervelt all agree that nothing compares to the full college experience so they are ready to do anything they can to give that to their students this semester.