The Arkansas mask mandate was issued on Jul. 18, 2020, requiring all residents to wear a covering over the mouth and nose in all indoor environments that are not private residences. Almost 9 months of a mask mandate and several more dealing with social distancing and isolation to prevent COVID-19 spread has affected all college students.
Unequivocally, classes went online or hybrid for the spring of 2020 at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Entire lessons had to be transferred online and students who did not sign up for this style of learning were forced out of the necessity of safety for all.
Sophomore Community Management and Development student Kayla Maxwell describes the effect of switching to virtual learning on her.
“[At] the beginning of this, all online classes didn’t bother me at all,” Maxwell said. “I enjoyed them but now I am starting to feel otherwise.”
She believes that once we are able to go back to being in a classroom with our peers’ coursework will be easier to do. She is thankful for her moms’ support right now and her sister is also at home doing work virtually. She is keeping focus currently with “several calendars, whiteboards, and a list going at a time.”
Senior Professional and Technical Writing student Micah Rodriguez is not impressed with online learning either.
“I prefer physical [classes],” said Rodriguez.“The class interaction is more fun and collaborating on projects is easier.”
Having a set time to be in class helps her balance work and school commitments. At home, Rodriguez has a space in her basement that she utilizes as an office and credits her wife’s support for helping her stay on track.
“My wife has been my biggest cheerleader as I try to finish up my degree,” said Rodriguez. “Making sure I have time to work, have access to snacks or fixing my laptop when it acts possessed…she has kept me sane.” Her routine and schedule are her best assets to stay focused.
Sophomore Mass Communications student Shyanne Kidd does not prefer either method of learning but confesses.
“I used to love in-person classes because you could be hands-on and ask questions and get demonstrations in-person,” Kidd said.
It was tough for her at first to be able to balance her online schoolwork with life but has adapted well. She has found what works best for her.
“Because I have become quite the procrastinator during COVID-19, with the help of writing and scheduling things I have been able to keep on target,” Kidd said. “I also found to not overwhelm myself with school 24/7 and taking time to myself has really helped me in remaining focused.”
Some students continued to work in the public space since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rodriguez was initially furloughed from her job. However, she is thankful for that time because it allowed her to work on school projects. Since then, she has found another job.
“Up until about 5 months ago I was delivering and installing appliances for clients,” said Rodriguez. “We had COVID-19 protocols to keep us safe, I didn’t feel safe. Listening to people complain about masks made me laugh as I was working in the heat and carrying fridges up flights of stairs while wearing a mask, gloves and practically bathing in hand sanitizer.”
She has now been promoted to a stay-at-home job.
Maxwell was working in the childcare center of a gym before they were shut down after spring break in 2020. The gym was unable to keep regular shifts because of their limited capacity, so she had to find other work to keep her hours. She acknowledges that her employers now are trying their best to keep her and fellow essential workers safe but is frustrated by those who don’t feel the need to wear a mask to protect others.
Kidd responds to a potential lift on the mask mandate with a rhetorical question, “We still have people dying from COVID-19 complications, and the state might lift the mask mandate?” She does not agree with relaxing this preventative measure.
Rodriguez lives with an at-risk individual and agrees with the sentiment.
“I think it is irresponsible,” said Rodriguez. “Even when the mandate is lifted, I am still wearing a mask to not only keep myself safer but my family.”
However, it looks like Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson will let the mandate expire by the end of this month.
The world has changed, and Rodriguez describes this well.
“I remember when my wife and I were visiting our cousins in March of 2020,” Rodriguez said. “The mask mandate was not a thing yet and nothing had actually closed. We made a joke about how this will all blow over and we will be back to normal before we know it. We visited them 5 months later. Social distancing was mandatory, masks were mandatory, some businesses were a thing of the past and were shared a laugh on how that statement didn’t age well.”
Many wonderful people and things have been lost. Maxwell has seen some positives of the slowing-down of the world COVID-19 has forced.
“It has made me explore interest that I typically wouldn’t have stopped to give a chance,” Maxwell said. “I have put a lot more time into thoughts and activities surrounding my future. It has also afforded me great opportunities. While I don’t neglect the bad that has happened during this time, I am so grateful for all the good that is coming.”
Kidd gives this advice, “Wear your mask, and one day we will be able to have our freedoms again. Whatever you do, always remain safe and protecting yourself, family and friends, and strangers.”