The COVID-19 pandemic will have been around for about a year and a half when Fall Semester rolls around, but will that be enough time to return to normal? The answer right now is undetermined.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the decision on how Fall Semester will run is still under review, and no official statement has been made.
Utah’s mask mandate is set to be lifted on April 10. But even after the statewide mask mandate is lifted, BYU is planning to continue the mask requirement on campus.
According to Utah Department of Health spokesperson Jenny Johnson, as of right now it’s hard to know what Fall Semester will look like. “Institutions can also certainly keep restrictions or some of the pandemic changes (remote learning for example) in place if they so choose,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the health department can’t speak for BYU specifically but if vaccinations continue to go well and people choose to get vaccinated when it’s their turn (including college-aged individuals), this pandemic will come to an end and people can get back to all of the things they’ve missed doing. “The quicker we can get people vaccinated, the sooner that day will come.”
Michael Rubin, a University of Utah professor of internal medicine, also said it’s difficult to know for sure what Fall Semester will look like in the state, but he believes it looks promising.
Utah has recently started offering the vaccine to everyone 16 or older. According to Utah’s coronavirus website, 18% of the state has been fully vaccinated as of March 25.
Rubin said because the vaccine is now available to everyone 16 and older in Utah, there’s enough time for most, if not all, university students to be vaccinated and immune prior to Fall Semester, in addition to all faculty, staff and others.
“If that happens, there’s reason to believe we can get back to more of a ‘normal’ situation in the classroom,” Rubin said.
According to Rubin, one of the big questions at this time is what will happen with the coronavirus variants. He said it’s unknown how well immunity from the vaccines will hold up against the different variants. “If we can’t get enough vaccines into people’s arms fast enough, the virus will continue to spread.”
Rubin said the goal is to get as many people vaccinated and immune as possible, as quickly as possible. With vaccinations and immunity the community transmission rate and test positivity rate will go down. “If we can accomplish that over the spring and summer, we should be in relatively good shape.”
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has said repeatedly that he believes people will be able to gather without masks by the Fourth of July.