Ten weeks after the announcement of her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has rescinded her stay-at-home orders and permitted businesses to open their doors back up to customers.
New COVID-19 case and death numbers have been continually declining in the past few weeks. Following months of social distancing, staying at home and adhering to other safety precautions, many Michigan State University students believe Whitmer’s reopening of the state came at the appropriate time.
“I think it’s the right time to open the state,” human capital and society senior Julia Nasiatka said. “We did our part by staying home, and we flattened the curve, and the economy shouldn’t have to suffer any longer, especially the people who own small business who may never have the chance to reopen.”
Some students, like undecided sophomore Grace Horowitz, believe the governor opened the state later than she should have, bringing damages to the economy by doing so.
“I think Whitmer opened things up a little late,” Horowitz said. “Our economy has been destroyed and it will take a very long time to rebuild. I guess better late than never though.”
Other students, however, feel apprehensive toward the state’s reopening out of concern for a second wave.
“I'm conflicted about the state reopening because I 100% believe there will be a second wave, but I also don't know if we are at risk of that right now,” genomics and molecular genetics junior Annie Kidder said. “I'm definitely going to continue social distancing as much as possible.”
While MSU President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. announced students are expected to return to campus for in-person instruction in the fall, some students fear the lingering threat of an upcoming, second wave of COVID-19 and its potential impact on their education at MSU.
Business-preference sophomore Summer Evans said she’s considered transferring to a different school because of the coronavirus.
“The experience at MSU next year is going to be completely different,” Evans said. “It sucks. I’ve already considered going to a smaller school and other options because of the changes that will be taking place in and around campus in the fall.”
Some students, like Kidder, also fear the virus’ impact on their prospective job opportunities.
“I'm afraid the reopening of businesses is going to create the perfect petri dish for the virus come fall and that school will close again fast,” Kidder said. “I'm definitely nervous about getting an internship and whether or not this is going to affect my career in the future.”
One student, who declined to give her name in order to protect her job, expressed concern for the safety of herself and her family due to underlying health conditions.
“I believe that there is a possibility of my future being affected once businesses are open,” she said. “I’m immunocompromised, and as are family members of mine, so if the reopening of businesses cause a spike in cases once the school year begins I may have to resort to fully online classes for my health and safety.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, immunocompromised people are at a “higher risk of getting severely sick” from COVID-19. Additionally, people with weakened immune systems may remain infectious for a longer period of time as compared to others.
She said she believes some businesses opened too early and worries the opening of bars will cause an increase in cases on campus.
“I’m worried with the bars being open this early, unless they limit the number of people in the doors,” she said. “With how often students frequent bars on campus, I’m a bit worried that we may have a spike in cases once classes begin again and people start going out.”
The state’s reopening allows bars and restaurants to reopen their indoor dining areas with limited — 50% or less — capacity and socially distant seating arrangements.
Following the crowding of bars on campus in March when COVID-19 first appeared in the state, Horowitz said it is in the hands of the owners and students to be cautious and use their discretion when going out.
“I think it’s up to the owners to take the right precautions, but I think it’s good,” Horowitz said. “I believe that everyone has the choice to go out or not. If they’re not comfortable, they shouldn’t go out. That being said, it’s still something people should think about, but it’s their life.”
Some students feel that if bars were not to open, students would still congregate at other events.
“The reopening of bars does make me nervous just because college kids can be very irresponsible, but in the end they are going to gather anyways, so I don’t think gathering at a bar will be any different then gathering somewhere else on campus, such as a frat party, or even a tailgate,” Nasiatka said.
Despite the bar culture around campus, other students, like arts and humanities junior Mary Dunstone, oppose the reopening of bars and believe it will facilitate the spread of COVID-19.
“Even though the bars are a huge social hub for MSU, I don’t think it’s a great idea. ... The point of the safety precautions were to limit transmitting the disease to others, and somewhere like a bar will definitely accelerate the spread,” Dunstone said.
Social relations and policy junior Abbie Smith has already seen the “hectic” effects the reopening of the bars will bring about.
Smith works at a restaurant in the greater Traverse City area — which is one of the regions of the state Whitmer permitted to reopen earlier than the rest due to its low numbers of the coronavirus — and thus went back to work earlier than the rest of the state.
She said she works next to a brewery, which has allowed her a glimpse into what the reopening of bars will entail.
“Since they opened their patio and outdoor seating they’ve started outdoor concerts again,” Smith said. “On the weekends there is probably close to 50-60 people on the patio.”
Dunstone, who works at a regional pet store chain, has also had experience working during the ongoing pandemic.
She said employees were provided with personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, and that there has been increasing numbers of online orders and pick-ups.
However, she additionally stated customers are vocal about their discontent for safety measures in place at her store.
“I get complaints from customers on the daily about having to wear masks, social distancing,” Dunstone said.
Dunstone said she believes masks should still be required to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Smith, who said masks are required at her place of employment until a party is seated, also warned students set to go back to work about complaining customers.
“Seriously be appreciative of customers that are going with the flow,” Smith said. “When dealing with difficult customers ... reiterate that you are just following your rules.”
A common theme for MSU students and the expected return to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic is safety for themselves and their peers, with many advocating others to stay informed and adhere to best practices.
“Before you decide that the virus isn't a problem, research it,” Kidder said. “See what health officials are saying and not just what other people are telling you.”