A smaller number of students than on the typical first day of school walked into their classes at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus Monday, Aug. 17, their expressions hidden by mandatory masks.
The common spaces were quiet as students focused on their laptops, including Veronia Negrete, a nursing student.
“It’s different from what I’m used to,” Negrete said while preparing for her courses in the Student Center. “I’m glad that we’re at least doing some classes in the school and some online. So far, it’s alright.”
Like many others wandering the sparsely populated halls of UNG, Negrete said she isn’t fearful about receiving or passing COVID-19. She only has to visit the campus once a week for lab courses.
Courses have been altered at the university to involve both virtual and face-to-face instruction. Chaudron Gille, senior vice president for academic affairs, told The Times last month that each hybrid course is labeled as either H1, H2 or H3.
She said the students in H1 classes — the most common form of hybrid course — spend “25% to 50%” of course time in face-to-face learning, which equates to about one face-to-face meeting with a professor every week per course. The classes also contain digital coursework.
H2 classes take place primarily online, although students in these classes will still meet with their professors four to eight times in a semester, Gille said. Students in H3 classes meet at about the same rate as those in H1 classes, but H3 courses are those that require additional safety protocols, such as lab science classes.
Matthew Boedy, UNG professor of rhetoric and composition, said teaching Monday morning was as normal as he could make it “with masks and half the enrolled students in the room.”
“I got the pandemic out of the way at the beginning, talked about the viral video, and masks and all that,” he said, referencing reports of a large party in Dahlonega involving UNG students. “Then we talked about the course, people took notes, and some talked. I joked at the end of the class that we all shouldn't head to the door all at once.”
Before coming into work on Monday, Boedy said he spent a sleepless night thinking about the risk faculty, staff and students take returning to campus because of “stuff like the viral video we saw this weekend.”
The university responded to those reports over the weekend, calling the students’ actions disappointing.
UNG spokeswoman Sylvia Carson said the university “continues to emphasize to our students and university community” that everyone has a responsibility on and off campus to follow state and federal health officials’ guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Boedy said he is fearful of contracting COVID-19 at UNG and bringing it back to his loved ones. He said his wife currently works at the hospital.
“After my first two weeks of in-person class meetings, I plan to get tested,” he said.
Sophomore Samuel Peralta said he tested positive for COVID-19 about three weeks ago without symptoms, but his test results now are negative.
He said he feels bummed about not being able to socialize like he normally would on campus, and in reference to the party in Dahlonega, he said, “Kids are kids, you can’t really stop them. They’ll eventually learn.”
But he said he is excited to be back.
“I have nothing against it (wearing a mask),” he said. “I guess we’re trying to distance ourselves and protect others. At the end of the day, there’s faculty and staff here that we’re trying to protect. Others might not believe in it or disregard it, but it’s school policy, so we have to.”
Paula Nolibos, a chemistry professor at UNG, said her class sizes, as well as other instructors’, have been cut in half. She said the maximum capacity for her in-person courses range from 12 to 24, allowing students to spread out.
Like everyone at UNG, Nolibos is required to wear a mask inside. But Nolibos said she struggles with claustrophobia, so donning a face covering makes her more uncomfortable than most on campus. The professor said, however, that she’s learning to deal with it.
“I don’t want to do online, I want to teach,” Nolibos said. “We’re really far apart from each other (in rooms). We’re really safe.”
Sitting in a chair at UNG’s student center, Aristotle Theofilis, a political science student, said he’s not worried about being back on campus, despite his family’s personal crisis.
He said his dad tested positive for COVID-19 and has been in the intensive care unit since July 22.
“They’re beginning to take him off the ventilator,” Theofilis said. “He’s recovering.”
Though he’s glad to be taking courses in person, the student said he thinks it won’t last for the whole semester.
“I don’t give it long until we all go online again,” he said. “Sadly, it’s just a matter of time.”