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Two people embrace in the only way two people can during a pandemic: through a plastic sheet and wearing face masks.

In this new COVID-19 era, it has become difficult for people to socialize. Between having to stay six feet apart and most indoor social venues like malls, movie theaters and restaurants being closed, it has made spending time with your friends increasingly more difficult.
For many, essential to the college experience is a chance to meet new people, form social groups and (for the out-of-touch Hollywood executive) go to parties.
“Before COVID I was with my friends a lot, just hanging out or doing theater or dance,’ said Anna Sargent, senior Criminal Justice major at NVU- Johnson. “Now I usually only socialize at my job, which I wish was a joke.”
Sargent, like other students who live close to Johnson, has opted not return to campus due to COVID.
Abundant research on well-being suggests that interacting with people is essential to mental health. Current restrictions, however, have made meeting that need more difficult. To get the socialization people need, they have learned to adapt to our current environment.
“Humans are social creatures, we are programmed biologically to need other people and to be around other people, Director of the Wellness Center Kate McCarthy said. “COVID is mandating that we do the opposite of what we are programmed to do and stay physically distanced from each other. When we are away from our social connections, we feel lonely.”
Things like wearing a mask in public, moving to locations outside, and keeping to small groups have become mainstays on the Johnson campus.
“Before COVID, we would work out, go to the dining hall, participate in campus events, have movie or game nights, go for walks,” Megan Roberts, a senior Math and Secondary Education major, said. “Now, I mainly go for walks with friends and have had a few game nights!”
Garrison French, a Fine Arts junior, also feels that he has had to make some painful adjustments in light of current realities. “Before COVID, I would do anything to have fun with my friends, from homework to playing something on the quad, as well as late night food runs,” French said. “Now every time I meet up with people or am around people I have started asking myself questions in my head like ‘am I far enough apart?’ or ‘I hope they like my mask,’ but socializing has changed and there are some positives about it. For one, I believe that the sickness rate has gone down due to the large practices of social distances.”
People like French have learned to adjust to the new guidelines society must follow, but for others it may be difficult to adjust to these changes. Wearing a mask and social distancing are easy on a physical level, but it makes socializing less intimate.
Sydney Scott, a senior in the Education department, restates this point saying, “It can be difficult; but I say that only because we’re so comfortable and trusting around each other, but we also know that masks are so important, so we try really hard to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to.”
The beginning of the first semester is usually the scariest and best time for many freshman and returning students alike. COVID has somewhat dimmed that excitement for many, including Patrick Parillo, a senior and Psychology major. “For me the best part of the year was always the first week when if you saw someone on campus you thought might be an interesting person, you could just go up to them and it wasn’t weird since it was the first week,” he said. “But now I definitely can’t do that because of COVID precautions and there’s also not nearly as many people out and about around campus.”
Where you once would have seen a group of the outdoor education students playing with a Frisbee or hanging out on the quad, you now see large, white, empty tents for outdoor classes and events.
“We are social creatures and need social connection,” McCarthy said. “On the other hand, we are all under a lot of stress, which often leads to people isolating themselves from others and socializing less even if it is not supportive to feeling better and more connected.”
A student walking alone to class wearing a mask is now a common sight. Some students will rarely leave their room to keep themselves and others safe.
“I do worry about people’s well-being when the model is a few hundred people sitting in their rooms, looking at screens, hours every day,” Residential Life Director Jeff Bickford said. “Frankly, I think the safety aspects aren’t that hard when there’s some real human interaction (I’ve been able to have some out of doors, socially distanced visits with friends that are terrific). The issue is more when people are isolated day after day. I think we could see increases in depression, in state anxiety.”
Kyle Palmer, a junior majoring in Psychology, reflects on this with his own experience: “socializing is basically nonexistent as there are so many restrictions and the health of others is rather important. Usually, I only go outside when it’s necessary. Primarily, my days are spent in bed most of the time. My screen time has also gone up quite a lot.”
Doing the necessary precautions seems to be more bothersome than it is actually challenging. Yet for some, coming back to campus is just as good, if not better than, in past semesters.
“I feel like I’ve been more social this semester than in previous semesters, which is weird, but I think the almost five months of isolation made me realize how important socializing is, even if I’d rather be alone,” said Hannah McMahon, a junior and Creative Writing major.
This global pandemic has caused a lot of fear among students, many feeling that being around others may carry significant risks that in the past were never considerations.
“I am constantly thinking about whether or not I know where people have been, if they are far enough from me and if I am going to get sick,” Sargent said. “It has made it really hard to enjoy other peoples’ company.”
Roberts seems to agree with Sargent saying, “COVID has just made me more cautious of who I hang out with. I keep my interactions to the same five people and minimize how much I hang out with people who are not in my immediate friend group. Before, I used to hang out with everyone and talk to everyone.”
The consensus about COVID is it sucks. Nobody likes wearing a mask, being six feet apart and having to follow arrows at the grocery store, but these precautions are here to protect us and help bring down the number of cases.
Students around campus have seemed to become more reclusive, but when they do socialize, it seems the location has changed from a small brick room with tapestry, plants and “The Office” on the TV, to being in the great outdoors of this beautiful campus.