Campus, News

Students reflect on continued COVID-19 requirements for Fall semester, visa struggles

BU student testing for COVID-19
Boston University’s Agganis Arena COVID-19 testing center. Students have expressed support for the University’s planned in-person Fall with mask use indoors and weekly testing, as well as for BU’s planned vaccine clinic in mid-August. LAURYN ALLEN/ DFP FILE

Boston University announced weekly COVID-19 testing and the continuation of the green badge system for the Fall semester in an email sent to students June 21 from Associate Provost and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore. Students will also be required to upload their vaccination status to the Patient Connect portal by August 1. 

This announcement follows BU’s decision to maintain the indoor mask mandate in classrooms and other indoor spaces for now while removing all social distancing measures for the Fall.

University spokesperson Colin Riley said BU will continue to test students and require masks indoors as a safety measure despite the summer’s relatively optimistic COVID-19 data because all students will be required to be on campus.

“What takes place over the summer isn’t necessarily a good predictor of the fall, because more people are outside,” Riley said. “As with last year, there was not a lot of transmission during the summer months, nationally and on campus as well.” 

The University will also hold a vaccine clinic on campus from mid-August to September 1 to help vaccinate more students and faculty who cannot get vaccinated before August 1. Students can request an extension through Patient Connect.

Riley pointed to the University’s COVID-19 data dashboard about completed vaccinations and BU COVID-19 testing as well.

“Right now you can check the dashboard and you see it’s not all students who have had an opportunity necessarily where they are to be vaccinated or may not have uploaded that information just yet,” Riley said. “But as the vaccination percentages increase, I think that’s going to be the foundation of our success for the coming Fall.”

COVID-19 vaccines without approval from the Food and Drug Administration or World Health Organization will be accepted, but students with a non-WHO-approved vaccine will be required to quarantine after traveling or after being in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Davidson Hamer, a professor of global health and medicine and member of BU’s Medical Advisory Group, said the University will continue to require masks indoors in case of another potential surge of infections in Massachusetts.

“State policies could change,” he noted. “Many of us medical epidemiologists are concerned about the Delta variant of concern, the one that originated in India… It’s more transmissible.”

Hamer added that due to BU’s urban campus, the community could still be at risk regardless of vaccination rates on campus.

“Even if we’re at 100% vaccinated we still need to be cautious with potential introduction of infections from outside of the University itself,” he said.

The announcement comes as a relief to many international students, especially as many of their visa delays begin to be resolved as well.

Ashari Bilan-Cooper, a rising sophomore in Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, said it was difficult for her to get a visa to come to campus from Singapore last fall because of the pandemic. 

“I was still planning on attending campus in-person in August 2020,” Bilan-Cooper said.“I was applying for my visa, and my appointments kept getting postponed and canceled because of the closing of the embassy here in Singapore. And so logistically it didn’t work out for me to get my visa in time.” 

She said she was able to come to campus in person for the Spring. 

“I think things will definitely be different and more back to normal per se,” Bilan-Cooper said, “but I think that the safety precautions that they’re putting into the Fall do sound positive, and I think they’re for the benefit of the students and the wider community.”

Quentin Blaizot, a rising junior in Pardee, said he disagrees with the University’s decision to continue testing and mandate masks indoors. 

“Personally I think it’s a PR stunt,” Blaizot said. “There is no medical backing for what they are doing, given that they are applying some rules and ignoring others … It’s their way of saying that we’re actually doing something because they believe that to be a priority.”

Although Blaizot said he believes the green badge system can be “handy” for the University to track COVID-19 data on campus, he fears it will increase the cost of tuition.

“No student is naive enough to think that this is just all free,” Blaizot said. “It’s going to bite us back in the ass in our tuition at one point, and that’s why I’m especially against any form of expensive operation the University might still think it wants to do.”

Laura Zanvettor, a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, spent the past year attending class in Brazil since January because she was unable to get her visa in time for the Fall and Spring semesters. 

“This month actually, they finally opened the U.S. consulate in Brazil, and then I was able to get my visa 10 days ago,” she said. “The process was fast, but it took one year in order for me to get it.”

Zanvettor said she plans on receiving her COVID-19 vaccine on campus in August since in Brazil, her age group will become eligible for the vaccine in the fall. 

She said she agrees with the University’s updated protocols. 

“I think it’s the right thing since [the University is] also requiring for all people to be fully vaccinated on the first day of class,” she said. “Being an international student, I think it’s great that they’re doing this because it feels like we’re finally going back to normal.” 

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