BY PRESTON BURROWS
HAYS: The mass return of students to Fort Hays State University and Hays’ community has brought concerns there might be another COVID-19 spike. Another concern that followed the virus in the new year is the topic of COVID-19 fatigue – a term related to people who know virus outbreak risks but slowly become less concerned with these safety issues.
Close to a year ago, colleges and universities were turned upside down and forced to create a new way of online education to educate students from the safety of their homes.
This fall, these protocols of no in-person classes were adjusted so some classes could meet in person, but only if masks were worn and there was a distance of six-feet between individuals. As the world gained more information about the virus and how to function in society while helping flatten the curve, community restrictions continued to lessen.
Restaurants opened again, in-person classes could take place, and sports began once more. However, there were still suggested Center of Disease Control guidelines to be followed in order to avoid a return to the more strict precautions.
However, did the lifting of these rules create a more significant desire to go back to how life was pre-COVID, possibly speeding up the process of COVID fatigue?
To better understand pandemic fatigue, organizations like the World Health Organization of Europe and Johns Hopkins Medicine have created pages dedicated to explaining what Coronavirus burnout is and how to overcome it.
For 19-year-old Graphic Design Major Caiden Showalter, this fatigue is not only real but is happening more for the community of Hays.
“No new rules have been set in place since the beginning of the school year… but I have seen a lot of laziness or cut corners with them definitely more so than from the first day of class like skipping cleaning or sanitizing, seating more a little closer to each other, and more group work,” Showalter said.
Also, as an employee of Walmart, Showalter commented on the lack of practicing correct COVID protocols from the customers and the corporation not being as strict as they can be.
According to Showalter, all Walmart employees are required to wear a mask, which helps follow safety guidelines and protect others. Customers are also expected to wear face coverings; however, Showalter says most customers do not follow this directive, putting everyone else at risk.
“Every employee is enforced to wear a mask and so are customers but not all of them do which I find annoying,” Showalter said.
She then added that Walmart stores are failing to enforce cleaning duties at the quantity they need to be in a global pandemic saying sanitizing is still done by employees, but just not as often as it should.
Showalter stated her frustration with serving people who do not wear masks saying she knows everyone is tired from wearing masks or not going out as much, but it is just as important now as it was at the beginning of the pandemic.
“My advice is to take this seriously and to follow every protocol given to them the best they can,” Showalter said.
Pandemic fatigue could be at the root of all these protocols being taken lightly and sometimes ignored.
Other places in the world like the United Kingdom have gone back into a lockdown to lower recent COVID-19 cases and stop the spread of the virus’s new variants that might affect vaccines. According to the CDC, in the United States, at the end of January, 6.9 percent of the population had been vaccinated, showing how it can be slow administrating millions of vaccinations.
The slow rate of vaccines in Kansas is even more of a scare for the community since the FHSU campus had its first known case of the UK variant at the beginning of February. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment even came to the campus to begin contract tracing and testing.
FHSU has shown its concern for the student’s and faculty’s safety by sending emails as early as December 18 with Coronavirus information and recommendations on getting tested before returning to school grounds. To combat pandemic fatigue, reminders and flexibility are necessary, as recommendations change.
“We ask that you complete the testing January 6 – 11 to ensure test results are available before Spring move-in and return to campus,” stated the email from Joey Linn, Vice President of Student Affairs.
The last email from the University explained how surveillance testing would continue on January 25 and provided new vaccine information such as links to the Ellis County Health Department COVID-19 information and a vaccine request form to those who would like to be vaccinated and know their particular phase group.
While FHSU still has on-campus classes, instructors have had first-hand experience of this attitude of fatigue toward protocols.
Betsy Crawford Ed. D NCSP, assistant professor at FHSU, has noticed COVID fatigue in the classroom but not in excessive amounts.
In the classroom, Crawford has been able to follow proper guidelines by spreading seats and using a microphone to be at a safe distance from the students.
“Students are always wearing masks. However, I have seen some students let it drop below their noses. This has happened since August,” Crawford said.
Crawford believes the vaccine will play a significant role in the following months of COVID-19 and even pandemic fatigue, as it could increase as the vaccines start to roll out. Some might stop wearing masks once they get their Coronavirus vaccine shots.
The guidelines are not only challenging for students but also teachers as they adjust how to get information across from a distance while struggling not to break the rules. Social distancing is challenging for an in-person class as so many of the best learning practices do not follow the CDC guidelines.
“With much of our faces covered, it is hard to tell when students are over the activity or if they are enjoying themselves. It also makes it very difficult to know who is who. I try to learn everyone’s name, but it is hard with the masks on,” Crawford said about the guidelines, giving one more reason fatigue is prominent.
However, Crawford’s class still has in-group activities, just not as frequent as she did pre-Coronavirus. These groups are the best for learning, but it is only for a short period that involves social distancing and sanitizing materials and spaces used.
“Once in a while, I am so over COVID and all of the rules that I cry and get cranky and frustrated,” Crawford said. “However, overall I am grateful to be interacting with students and faculty in a face to face manner much of the time without fear because we follow the guidelines.”