Signage for the clinic is seen at the entrance on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, during a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Springer Suites at Domincan University's Rebecca Crown Library in River Forest, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

When 19-year-old Yohhani Monzon found out one of her vaccinated friends tested positive for COVID-19, she was stunned. The Dominican University freshman remembered getting a text from her friend, Lisa Soto, a few weeks ago, and immediately thought, “You really caught it, huh?”

“I kind of laughed at first,” Monzon told Wednesday Journal Jan. 27 while attending a vaccine booster clinic inside a room beneath the university library on the River Forest campus.

But as the news settled in, Monzon recalled getting scared. “For once I knew someone who I was close with who got sick,” she said, turning to Soto who joined Monzon at the booster clinic and returned to campus early last week after completing her 10-day quarantine period at home.

Monzon said she got tested after Soto broke the news to her, her anxiety vanishing only after she got a negative test result back.

Monzon and Soto, who is also 19 and a Dominican freshman, said their experience shows just a glimpse of what it feels like to go to school during the pandemic. The two, who were high school juniors when the first wave of the pandemic hit about two years ago, said they, like many other students, have had to just adjust to what is now considered a “new normal.”

If anything, Monzon said interacting with people after that initial lockdown was lifted and going back to school in-person was tough.

“When COVID started, I was so sad. I felt so lonely. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, who am I?” said Monzon, a self-described “social butterfly.” “But when it all came back, the vibes were just different, and I found it more difficult to talk to people. I felt like people were closed off for so long it was hard for them to open up again, especially coming to college because everyone’s doing their own thing, minding their business, working, busy.”

“It’s hard to make conversations sometimes, and since I’m a commuter, I’m not here every day,” Monzon added. “I’m not living with these people, so it’s obviously a different connection with the people they’re surrounded by. It’s just been a little bit difficult, because I’m not used to it being difficult for me.”

On top of that, Monzon had trouble with getting back into a routine.

“It’s a struggle now,” said Monzon, who is studying computer science. “It used to be all online. Now that it’s in person, I have to get up early, get ready and come here.”

Marissa Vargas, a senior at DU who also attended the Jan. 27 vaccine clinic, had a different take on the return of in-person classes. As a math major, the 25-year-old Vargas said she struggled with online classes and grasped the material better when learning alongside her peers and professors.

For university sophomore Jared Bandi, he said being a student in the pandemic is “weird.” 

Bandi, who received his booster shot, said he misses “[hanging] out with people every day” and has tried to maintain friendships over Zoom or through phone calls. Because of the pandemic, Bandi has also been unable to travel and see his family, most of whom live in India. On top of that, one day before the booster clinic, one of Bandi’s classes was cancelled because his professor tested positive for COVID.

“You have to make the adjustments,” said Bandi, 20 and a computer science major, adding that his decision to get the booster shot was part of adapting to the situation at hand and protecting himself and ultimately his loved ones.  

Barrington Price, vice president of student success and engagement and head of the university’s COVID response team, told the Journal that navigating the novel coronavirus is, so far, part of everyone’s life.

“It’s become part of our practice,” said Price, adding Dominican officials and medical staff have shifted and strengthened its safety measures countless times, including when staff and students returned to campus last month for second semester.

Like many schools nationwide, Dominican anticipated an uptick in omicron related COVID cases as staff and students headed for campus after winter break. Aside from the Jan. 27 booster clinic, university officials held another clinic during the first week of January, before the start of the second semester. The university also sent reminders to staff and students about the wellness center’s COVID testing kits; to use the Campus Clear app to document their symptoms; availability of Plexiglass shields and limited dining hall services.

According to school data, the university reported 53 cases among staff and students from Jan. 7 to 13, during the first week of second semester, but those high numbers have steadily declined in the past few weeks, Price said. Last week, the university reported 20 new cases of COVID-19 among staff and students, a dip from the 44 cases reported during the week of Jan. 14 to 20, school data showed.

Both of last month’s booster clinics were held in partnership with the Cook County Department of Public Health and open to the Dominican community and local residents. On Jan. 27, a total of 76 people received their COVID booster shots, Price told the Journal. 

Apart from contracting the novel virus but not being “sick sick,” Soto thought about the ways that her life has stayed relatively unchanged since the pandemic began.

“I remember at the beginning I was like, ‘Oh my god. This is going to be in our textbooks one day,’ which is still kind of mind-blowing,” she said. “[But] I think I’ve socialized with the same amount of people, so I don’t see as much of a difference. It doesn’t seem like I had to go out of my way to do something because of the pandemic besides wearing a mask. Besides that, it doesn’t seem like a problem to me.”

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