With the University relaxing or doing away with COVID-19 restrictions this fall — such as easing masking requirements and closing PCR testing locations — many students felt that this semester was the first “normal” one since the start of the pandemic.
As Cornell entered the first full academic year in the pandemic, it implemented strict COVID-19 policies to keep cases at bay. The University required twice-weekly PCR surveillance testing for students and completion of the Daily Check to self-report potential COVID-19 symptoms.
The University also displayed the number of cases reported each day via its COVID-19 dashboard. However, it ceased posting weekly self-reported antigen test data on Oct. 1 on the dashboard out of concerns that without mandatory testing, the results would be inaccurate. Cornell also required COVID-19 vaccination for students, faculty and staff for the fall 2021 semester, as well as boosters for the spring 2022 semester.
Students overwhelmingly said they enjoyed this semester’s lack of COVID-19 restrictions.
“I feel that I’m able to go back to my day to day life without having to think of COVID at all,” said Rayan Bhorania ’23, who experienced a full semester at Cornell before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the University’s closing in March 2020.
Students largely commented on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on their social interactions. Isabel Hou ’24, who transferred to Cornell during her sophomore year, said that mask-wearing made it difficult to connect with her peers.
“At the start of sophomore year, I felt a similar sense of isolation, even though classes were in-person,” Hou said. “Because there was a mask mandate in place, it was difficult to approach peers and, in my opinion, feel welcome in class.”
Bhorania echoed Hou’s statement, adding that COVID-19 restrictions impacted his ability to participate in the activities he enjoys most.
“I felt amazing that COVID restrictions were finally able to relax,” Bhorania said. “I think my favorite part was that I could constantly be within high-density social areas and meet new people while also being able to do what I enjoy: project team hands-on work with people who share similar interests.”
Although William Fox ’26 did not experience the University’s past social distancing and virtual learning policies, he still noted social difficulty in his transition to Cornell.
“I would describe my transition as somewhat difficult at first, but better with time. I found that finding a solid friend group and cemented study habits were tough initially, but I was able to find my groove as the semester progressed.”
In addition to enjoying in-person social interactions, Feyi Adeyeri ’24 said she felt reduced COVID-19 restrictions positively impacted her academic experience this semester.
“I found the lack of COVID-19 restrictions this semester to be pretty beneficial. I honestly thought it made making connections with professors and classmates easier and made the whole learning experience more personable,” Adeyeri said.
Hou said she felt that the changes in University COVID-19 policy this semester reflected a more general shift in attitude regarding the pandemic.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed COVID-19 restrictions and return to normalcy. Returning to classes without masks and without daily checks has been incredibly relieving, and I’ve relished the ability to gather in large groups and socialize,” Hou said. “These things truly make me feel like we are in a post-pandemic era.”
Julia Senzon ’26 contributed reporting.