Campus and community members hope for a return to local events with the help of the COVID-19 vaccine

BY CORIE LYNN

As vaccines against COVID-19 become more widely available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidelines for individuals fully vaccinated against the virus.

One such guideline states that fully vaccinated individuals can gather in small settings as well as with other vaccinated individuals without having to wear masks or social distance.

According to Ellis County Health Department Director of Health Services Jason Kennedy, about two-thirds of the population of Ellis County were desperate to or willing to receive the vaccine.

“I believe that incentivizing the vaccine through relaxing public health measures will encourage the last 1/3 of the population to be willing to be vaccinated,” he said.

Kennedy believes that in addition to the CDC’s relaxed measures, time, research and education will lead to an increase in those willing to receive the vaccine. According to Kennedy, Ellis County residents should remember that vaccines in general are important to maintaining community health.

Like Kennedy, Will Stutterheim, assistant director of the FHSU Student Health Center, hopes the relaxed guidelines will lead to an increased interest in vaccination.

“We need as many students, faculty, and staff as possible taking steps to get vaccinated so we can return to in-person learning safely,” Stutterheim said.

Though FHSU does not require students and faculty to receive the vaccine nor does it keep data on those who receive it, Stutterheim says that Student Health did see a number of individuals interested in being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Even as the university moves forward with in-person activities and classes, Stutterheim explains that the campus community should continue to practice safety precautions in addition to receiving the vaccine.

“Prematurely stopping those precautions could lead to undoing the progress we have made,” Stutterheim said.

For Stutterheim, the vaccine is important to students because it will allow for the college experience to return. This experience includes engaging with peers and faculty, watching teams play and hanging out with friends on campus.

“I want nothing to get in the way of a new generation of students making the same great memories on this campus,” he said. “If a vaccine and wearing masks for a little while longer returns us to that kind of lifestyle, I look forward to what our next fall semester can look like.”

Though the FHSU campus anticipates in-person events this fall, the Hays community as a whole already sees a similar increase in events and entertainment in its downtown businesses.

“I don’t know if the increase in events is directly related to the vaccine or if it’s just the fact that numbers are low and the City of Hays mask mandate has been lifted,” Executive Director of Downtown Hays Development Corporation Sara Bloom said.

Bloom went on to explain that downtown Hays a place to gather. Events such as Oktoberfest, Wild West Festival and the art walks draw the community together.

“They bring light and energy to the downtown area and provide customers to our businesses,” Bloom said. “We need to host events and gather as a community for our mental health and our economic health.”

During the pandemic, she explained, the community has been supportive of the local businesses downtown, which she views as a positive outcome of the situation.

Recently, when these businesses were offered the opportunity to receive COVID-19 vaccines, Bloom said that 80 individuals opted in.

‘I feel this shows a readiness from our downtown businesses to contribute to the health and safety of our community and their customers,” Bloom said. “They are continually looking for ways to help and support Hays, and many of them see the vaccine as doing just that.”

Though it is not clear whether the new CDC guidelines are directly influencing whether individuals receive the vaccine or not, a desire to resume community life seems to play a role.

Whether it is to return to the classroom, attend a football game or participate in downtown business, members of the Hays and FHSU communities hope that vaccination will allow in-person events to return.

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