On the UM Campus, How the Pandemic Has Been Brought Under Control
Walking into a biochemistry class, surrounded by a sea of masks, senior Anders Swanson thinks back to his first day at the University of Miami. “All of the new freshmen were out on the intramural field for orientation,” Swanson says. “And I remember there were huge crowds of people talking to each other and just a lot of group activities.”
Three years have passed since Swanson’s first day at UM, and since then much has changed. Freshmen no longer congregate in enormous groups for orientation, and instead of seeing his friends’ smiling faces in class, Swanson sees only masks.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, universities nationwide have had to adapt to life ruled by pandemic protocols. But now, after a year and a half, UM has managed to return most classes to in-person (vs. Zoom). And with zero cases of in-classroom transmission for the 2020-21 school year, and more than 80 percent of undergraduate students now vaccinated, UM has lifted many of its COVID-19 protocols. Curfews are no longer in effect, and masks are no longer required outside, including at athletic events. Getting to this point has not been easy, however. During the last school year, UM monitored student organizations and student behavior closely.
On the Canes Care for Canes website, UM students could – and still can – report any student behavior that might be cause for concern. In the past this has included behaviors ranging from bullying to criminal activity. But since the start of the pandemic, the university has also encouraged studentsto report classmates, other students, or student organizations for behavior that violates the university’s COVID-19 protocols – even off school grounds. “If there was an off-campus problem that we became aware of, it was handled,” says Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Patricia Whitely. Junior Matthew Maya says two of his friends faced disciplinary action for violating COVID-19 protocols off-campus. “They posted something on their Snapchat stories at a club. And I guess someone reported them because the university contacted them a few days later, and they got in trouble,” says Maya. His friends were placed on disciplinary probation, meaning that if they incurred a second offense, they could lose scholarship money or on-campus housing. Additional offenses could result in suspension or expulsion. Some Greek life organizations went so far as to enact a no-cell phone rule at parties, to stop students from taking pictures and reporting any mask-free revelry to Canes Care for Canes.
Now, while mandatory masking is still required indoors and recommended when in large groups outside, many students don’t wear masks at football games or while walking around campus. “Sometimes, it’s hard to interact in class when everyone’s wearing a mask, but it really feels like things are going back to normal,” says Swanson, a music major.
UM still requires all students, staff, and faculty to get the COVID vaccine; unvaccinated students must get tested twice a week on campus. Even with that stick, the administration has used some big carrots: Starting in August and continuing until November 5, vaccinated students could participate in a raffle to win prizes that ranged from a poolside cabana at the Biltmore Hotel to an American Airlines voucher worth $350. For the grand prize, one student received $5,000 in cash.