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College move-in season is upon us. From now until mid-September, thousands of students are expected to return to Boston from all over the country, including from coronavirus hot spot states like Florida and South Carolina.
The schools that are offering in-person learning this semester say they’ve instituted a lot of new rules to prevent outbreaks. But just like most COVID prevention efforts, much of it relies on the honor system.
And that's making a lot of people nervous right now.
"I just don’t trust the student population as a whole to be responsible," says Miranda Rodea, a fourth year student at Northeastern University. Seeing a spike in coronavirus cases in her home state of Texas over the summer, she decided to stay home and learn remotely. Money was a factor, too. With most social events cancelled, she says the cost of housing just wasn’t worth it.
"I just thought, there’s no point," Rodea explains.
But even students who have decided to come back say they’re worried about the new school year.
"I honestly am a bit scared," says Eliazar Miraz, a fourth-year student at Northeastern. "I don’t know if I should trust everybody."
Miraz had a hard time keeping up with academics while living with his family in Texas last spring, so he's coming back to campus, despite the health risk. Still, he says it's weird to face so much uncertainty in the new school year.
"We’re going to just have to take it one step at a time as students, and just make the most of it," Miraz says.
Some business owners who have long relied on students are welcoming the start of in-person classes.
"It will bring some people and some energy back to this neighborhood that is a very quiet place," says Billy Moran, the general manager of Cornwall’s Pub, a popular bar in Kenmore Square.
The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for his family’s business. Between school closures and the fan bans at this season's Red Sox games, business is down by about 75%. Moran is hoping that with the students back, the family can make up at least some of the losses.
"It is a little bit scary because we [will have] people coming back from all over the world," says Moran. "But Boston University has spent the summer preparing testing facilities and contact tracing abilities so that they are able to track and trace and anything that flares up. They'll be able to isolate very quickly."
Officials at Northeastern have been making similar plans. Still, they also acknowledge that there will be things that are outside of their control, such as student activity in off-campus housing. That concerns a lot of community members and city leaders.
Vice President and Chief of Campus Planning Kathy Spiegelman took a lot of direct questions about this at a July city council hearing on college reopening plans.
"Obviously, when they're not on our campus and they're not in our housing, it's a little bit harder to monitor what they're doing," Spiegelman said. "But we are trying to create a community of caring where people understand what it means to come back and what it means for us all to share this space in this time."
In a typical college year, there are tensions between students and neighbors: whether it’s partying, littering or loud noise. Now, add COVID-19 to that list.
That’s why a lot of Boston residents are nervous. Patricia Flaherty lives in Mission Hill. She argues that colleges should take more time to develop better plans for policing student behavior off campus, and that January might be a more reasonable reopening date.
"If you’re ignoring a whole piece of this, then you’re asking for an outbreak in the fall," she says. "And is that an acceptable risk? I don’t know. ... I don’t want to be one of the acceptable risk numbers."
But other nearby Mission Hill residents, like Pamela Leins, who also runs a new barber shop in the neighborhood, say trust in the schools and the students is only part of the equation.
"Trusting them is as important as trusting myself. I know I’m not going to go into a party," says Leins. "I’m not going to do certain things because you can’t trust."
She hopes students can hold themselves accountable to the same level of caution she's holding herself and her business to.
This segment aired on August 17, 2020.
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