So, elephant in the room, we're back at school and COVID-19 is still a thing. We have no idea what this semester is going to bring. We are in the middle of a pandemic, something us college students have never experienced in our lifetimes. While things may be different in a week or a month or a year, in the meantime, there are steps that we can take to protect the health of ourselves and our loved ones.
Please, oh please, wear a mask
First off, it’s the law in Iowa City. Mayor Bruce Teague issued a mandate beginning July 21 that requires masks in all indoor public places and all outdoor public places when people cannot stay six feet away from one other. There are a few exceptions – including when running and biking, children under the age of two, eating at restaurants/bars, and people on ventilators or oxygen therapy.
Even if it wasn’t the law, you should still wear a mask. Let me throw some science at you real quick. Masks block little droplets of saliva and mucus that carry bacteria and viruses. They also help create a barrier to protect you from other peoples’ respiratory droplets. According to the CDC, masks are most effective when both sick people and healthy people are wearing them. So, mask up, because not only does it protect you, but it protects others who are high-risk.
Stay in (I promise you can still have fun)
The bars are probably the worst place you could go at the moment. Even bars that have social distancing measures in place are high-risk for the spread of COVID-19. Take it from me, a bartender, they are not the most hygienic places on Earth. And don't even get me started on frat parties - those things are cesspools of bacteria swimming from person to person.
So, how do we prevent thousands of asymptomatic college COVID-19 carriers? Stay in. I promise you can have just as much – if not more – fun than going out to the bars or a party. Have a movie night with your roommates. Go to the drive-in movie theater. Make a bar out of your kitchen, and experiment with cocktails and blended recipes. It’s a LOT cheaper to drink at home than it is to drink out. This website will take all the items in your kitchen and tell you what cocktails you can make based on what you have - it's a fantastic tool for beginners.
Know Your University Resources
As students at the University, we have resources available to us so that we can stay safe. In times of a pandemic, there are a few resources you should be aware of so that you can protect yourself as much as possible.
COVID-19 Temporary Alternative Learning Arrangements for Populations with Vulnerabilities (TALA) is an application that allows high-risk, medically vulnerable students to seek alternative learning situations. If you fall into one or more of the high-risk categories outlined by the CDC and don’t feel comfortable attending any in-person or hybrid classes, you can seek distanced learning options through TALA.
For those of us who have been unfortunate enough to be out of work during the pandemic, there are several ways to access funds through the University and the state of Iowa. No one should have to worry about finances while at school amid a pandemic - there are more important things to stress over. The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund Application through the CARES Act is intended for U.S. citizens eligible for Title IV (federal) aid who have filed their FAFSA by June 5. As of now, the application – which is accessible through MyUI - is closed because of the high volume of applicants, but keep an eye out for when it opens and submit it right away.
And, the most important resource for college students: free food. Hawkeye Meal Share is a program where students can donate their unused guest meal swipes to any undergraduate, graduate, or professional student at the University of Iowa that demonstrates food insecurity. The application for meal share swipes is exceptionally straightforward, and you can receive up to 14 meals at one time.
Other resources are at the following links: free Spectrum Internet/WiFi for 60 days through Charter, 211 resources in Iowa, and CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank.
Take advantage of online opportunities
Many student organizations are trying to have virtual or hybrid opportunities to keep members active yet safe from exposure. For all you introverts, this is the perfect time to get involved on campus! Find a student organization that you are interested in, ask about virtual options, and join them in a Zoom meeting or Netflix Party movie night. Then, whenever we go back to in-person meetings, you will already feel comfortable with the people and the organization.
If you want options outside of the University, check out events that have gone virtual off-campus. Plenty of organizations have moved speakers, conferences, and learning experiences online, and many are free. Khalid even had a concert on TikTok a few weeks ago!
Don’t forget about your mental health
Sure, your body is essential. And there are plenty of ways to protect your physical health. But what about your mind? School is stressful enough – dealing with a pandemic where you can’t go within six feet of your best friend while studying for exams and freaking about online homework is ridiculous. So take care of your brain. Mental health is NO JOKE. Even though some things are off the table right now, there are still plenty of ways to kick back and unwind. My personal favorite? Hammocking. The Pentacrest has some excellent spots to lay out a picnic blanket or set up a hammock. If you want to get further off the beaten path, try out City Park by the arts campus, College Green Park up Washington Street, Riverfront Crossings Park by Big Grove Brewery, or Hickory Hill Park east of the President’s house. You can even have a beach day at Lake Macbride State Park (just remember to social distance from other beach goers!). Pack up some food in a cooler, pick a good book, and bring your roommates to the great outdoors to soak up some Vitamin C.
The most important thing you can do for your brain is taking a break. Give yourself time to process what you’re feeling, accept it, and move on. Make opportunities to distance yourself from school, even if it’s only for an hour on a Saturday. And, you can still talk to a therapist through University Counseling Services – it’s included in your tuition, so you don’t have to pay anything extra.
Be considerate, observant, and selfless
This is probably the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and others. Just because you are young and healthy doesn't mean your classmate, neighbor, or professor is the same. At any point, you could be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. Wear a mask to protect at-risk populations, like those with respiratory issues and autoimmune disorders. Keep your distance on campus - don’t crowd someone during class or stand directly behind them in the Starbucks line. Appearances can be deceiving - underlying health disorders are called "underlying” for a reason, so be considerate of everyone.
This year is going to be different. It’s going to be strange. I turn 21 this year, and I know my birthday isn’t going to be exactly what I had planned. Big 10 football is canceled, some students are graduating seniors, and most (if not all) don’t want a year of their college life ruined by a virus. All of that is perfectly understandable. And yet, I urge everyone to take one year of complete selflessness – staying in from the bars, social distancing when seeing your friends, wearing a mask. This year will be a challenge, but putting in the effort to stop the spread could mean that things are much more normal next year. And I don’t know about you, but I prefer normal.