Covid NJ: Freshman Year At Covid University


My nephew is part of the unfortunate class of 2020 — the kids who had no idea that last March was their last days of high school. They are the kids who missed graduation, prom, senior year and other milestones they’ll never get back.

And now, another letdown: That whole “freshman year at college experience.”

When the new semester began, Andrew’s options were to live on campus, for a price, and to try to establish a college life while enduring the COVID-era protocols; or stay home and continur taking his classes virtually while living under extended parental rule and watching from the sidelines while classmates (some at less strict schools) posted the college highlights on social media.

Despite my sister and her husband’s COVID fears, it was the strain of their son staying home well beyond the time he needed to grow some independence (and, admittedly, some freedom) that made them decide to send him to college in hopes that it would alleviate that worry and lower the risk.

Andrew was given a single room, like all the kids on campus. The extra bed was turned into a makeshift couch — problem is, no one else could sit on it with him, because the kids weren’t allowed to be in each other’s rooms, even with masks on. Ever.

On the first night, Andrew and the much more outgoing kid who was supposed to have been his roommate walked the halls looking for signs of life. If they heard noise behind a door, they would knock and introduce themselves. This led to a foursome in one room briefly. Although they wore masks, they were immediately caught and given a citation. He stopped trying to make friends, lest he get caught in someone’s room again and screw it all up for good.

Three of his four courses were virtual, and when he did attend in person, it was just him and one other student. He could book a 40-minute slot at the campus gym. He could join a club, but they were virtual. He was even assigned a specific number shower stall and toilet to use in the bathroom.

He had to get a COVID test each week, along with all the other students who had chosen to come to campus, in a line that wrapped around a building, outdoors, in February. If Andrew did test positive or was exposed to someone who tested positive, he’d immediately have to move to the quarantine dorm, where he couldn’t leave at all for two weeks.

Three weeks after they bought and brought all the things – the mini-fridge, the microwave, the shower flip flops, plus extra masks and hand sanitizer, all of it — my sister and brother-in-law returned to campus to pack it all up.

“I had low expectations, but I was hoping it would be better,” Andrew said. “Maybe it will be eventually. I don’t mind having to wear a mask, but it would be nice to actually be able to have the social experience.”

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