The recent surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19 remains a concern for some students at Stony Brook University as cases skyrocketed across New York over the holiday break.
Although cases have declined since the break, according to the Stony Brook COVID-19 dashboard, students continue to voice their fears about their physical and mental health as the semester progresses.
“I thought that we would go online to be honest,” senior psychology major Ann Mathew said. “I’m kind of shocked that we’re still on campus.”
The boroughs alone recorded more than 270,000 cases in December, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Amidst the rise in COVID-19 infections, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Dec. 31 that students who planned to attend classes in-person at SUNY and CUNY campuses were required to receive a COVID-19 booster shot and show proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon returning to school. Hochul also said that schools must continue to enforce mask mandates regardless of vaccination status.
“I’m glad to see that most people are wearing their masks, but it’s still kind of scary because there’s no social distancing in the classrooms,” Mathew said.
Those with underlying health conditions have even more reason to be concerned about the new variant.
“I know if I get sick that I would struggle because I have asthma,” sophomore economics major Matthew Shinh said. “I think it would take a big toll on me. It’s not a joke.”
Aside from their physical health being at risk, the psychological impact of the new variant on students is also cause for alarm.
“After every variant I feel like there’s always another one,” senior business management major Aaron Donegan said. “It’s just tiring and I definitely feel fatigued.”
Forty-eight percent of college students said that they experienced moderate to severe psychological stress over the course of the pandemic, according to the American College Health Association. A quarter of students in the same study had contemplated suicide.
Students have the opportunity to speak with a counselor in-person and virtually through Counseling and Psychological Services, which is available 24/7. The University is also providing workshops, programs and events through the Center for Prevention and Outreach, providing students with techniques to manage stress, anxiety and depression. Some programs are Let’s Talk, a one-time counseling session with a therapist from CAPS, and R.E.A.C.H. groups, which teach connections and coping skills with in small student groups.
Burnout is another concern that has come with the emergence of the omicron variant. According to Mayo Clinic, seeking support from family and friends can help, but finding time to be around friends and family requires more effort than usual.
“Burnout is something that happens to everybody,” Shinh said. “The pandemic makes everything a little bit worse, so it’s important when you have those pockets of free time you spend with people you actually enjoy being with.”
Despite the new variant, some students say that they are not as concerned about COVID-19 as they were at the beginning of the school year.
“I know it’s more contagious [omicron] but I heard it causes less severe illness,” Donegan said. “I wasn’t as concerned as the first semester we came back.”
Stony Brook has put several policies in place to prevent the spread of the variant. Vaccinated residents are required to get tested every two weeks, while vaccinated commuters need to take a test once per month. Students with medical or religious exemptions that allow them to not take the vaccine or booster must be tested once per week during the spring semester.
“There’s so many things that the school could do that I think they are doing well,” Shinh said. “The school does a good job at enforcing masks in classes.”
However, there is some worry over the protocol put in place in the event that a student tests positive for COVID-19. If a student lives within 50 miles of campus, they would be required to leave their dorm and quarantine back at home, according to the Stony Brook Stronger Together webpage.This may pose an issue for students who have no method of transportation to get there.
“I have a friend who doesn’t have a car, so how would he get home if he gets sick?” Shinh said.
Dean of Students Ric McClendon said that it is important for students to have a plan in case they get sick and have to quarantine.
“If there are extenuating circumstances, the medical team at Student Health Services will evaluate the student’s situation on a case by case basis,” McClendon said.
Hochul reported that New York’s overall COVID positivity rate was at 2.5%. The New York vaccination rate rests at 72.6% people with a completed vaccine series. With around two-thirds of the country fully vaccinated, more than 62 million Americans who are eligible for the shot are still unvaccinated.
“While omicron has done its best to stop our recovery in its tracks, New Yorkers haven’t let up and we continue to see a steady decline in our hospitalizations and cases,” Hochul said during a press briefing on Feb. 2. “The progress we’ve made is a strong indication that we have the tools — vaccines, boosters, tests and masks — to keep our communities safe, and our schools, businesses and economy open.”