For the first time since classes switched to majority online instruction more than a year ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students can plan on attending in-person classes again. The fall 2021 semester will be in-person, potentially without social distancing or masks, Dr. Aaron Carroll said in an interview Friday.
IU President Michael McRobbie announced in February that the university is set to return to mostly normal operations for the fall 2021 semester because of lower COVID-19 positivity rates on campus and the availability of vaccines.
Carroll, IU’s director for mitigation testing, said he doesn’t think mitigation testing will be necessary in the fall.
“There probably is no need for mitigation testing, it would shift just into more surveillance,” Carroll said. “If we saw outbreaks we might increase testing in areas just to try to catch it and slow it down, but I think it will not look like mitigation testing.”
Carroll said he thinks social distancing might not be necessary in classrooms and thinks there's a possibility masks might not be required, but only if the university receives data showing most students are vaccinated.
“I'm hopeful that we can go back to normal classroom numbers, and perhaps even no masks for classes,” Carroll said. “But all of this is dependent on how safe it is, and we don’t know that yet. None of these predictions are declarations of 100% surety.”
Molly Rosenberg, an epidemiologist at the School of Public Health, said students attending in-person classes during the 2020-21 school year weren’t at higher risk for getting COVID-19. She contributed to a study that showed COVID-19 transmission did not correlate with the amount of in-person credit hours a student took during the fall 2020 semester.
“I anticipate that some safety precautions are going to need to remain in place and we'll continue to monitor cases that might be linked to classrooms, even though we haven't seen any indication that cases are linked to classroom settings,” Rosenberg said.
Current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say people who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors with other vaccinated people without social distancing or masks.
The CDC also says vaccinated people can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without distancing or masks as long no one has increased risk for COVID-19. To be fully vaccinated, a person must wait two weeks after their final dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC.
Both Carroll and Rosenberg said they don’t know if guidelines will be different for IU students who have been vaccinated compared to those who haven’t because it's hard to implement policy dividing the two. The university hasn’t determined yet if it can legally enact different requirements.
Carroll and Rosenberg also said they’re hopeful students will get vaccinated so the campus can reach levels of herd immunity, which would require a majority of the student population being fully vaccinated.
Freshman Joeli Hamilton said she's excited for in-person classes next semester because she thinks they will better engage her learning.
“I have severe ADHD so this year has been incredibly hard for me,” Hamilton said. “I hope that going to class, getting out more and having a classroom to learn in will positively affect my learning next year.”