How long can they keep it up?
Done with covid
At the start of this whole covid roller coaster, everything still seemed like a bad dream: people who didn’t shake hands anymore, everyone’s faces hidden behind masks, students taking classes in bed, and outside cafés, usually the domain of students, suddenly deserted. But over the past two years, this has become the new normal, even for students.
‘If it’s mandatory, it’s mandatory, and you just have to bear it’, Carlijn Boerebach says, resigned. The pharmaceutical student doesn’t necessarily have any issues with the mask mandate. She thinks people should wear them in crowded places where they can’t socially distance.
However, she doesn’t agree with having to wear a mask in places where people can stay away from each other, like the central medical library. ‘I don’t understand why I have to wear a mask for six hours when I’m sitting still while studying and I’m far enough away from other people.’ Nevertheless, she still obeys the rules and wear a mask.
Lisanne Rozema, student of law, appreciates other people wearing masks. She usually sits exams with seven hundred other students. ‘It feels safer if everyone wears a mask.’ She feels it’s a way of sending out a signal. ‘Seeing other people wearing masks makes me feel like they’re taking the pandemic seriously.’
I don’t understand why I have to wear a mask for six hours when I’m sitting still
Most students obey the mask mandate while travelling by train, too. In spite of all the doubts and discontent, it appears as though students somehow trust that the mandate makes sense. ‘It’s been decreed by experts on the subject’, Carlijn explains.
Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that people have been increasingly questioning the covid restrictions. Lude Franke, genetics professor at the UMCG and creator of the Corona Barometer, says it’s not surprising that students have been expressing their objections.
Together with the UG and UMCG LifeLines Corona Research team, he studies people’s physical and mental well-being in the north of the Netherlands. Using surveys that are disseminated to tens of thousands of research participants, they collect data about the various aspects of the pandemic.
Franke is worried about ‘people’s ability to continue obeying the restrictions. I think that ability is finite.’
When it comes to getting a booster shot, students aren’t necessarily getting it in an effort to get rid of the virus. They usually get it for more strategic reasons. Lisanne slyly admits that she only got a booster vaccination so she could travel again. Carlijn will also get a booster shot if it turns out she’ll need it go go skiing this spring.
The students’ travel plans are almost a reflection of optimism, it seems. Franke’s returned questionnaires do show that people are cautiously hopeful. ‘The arrival of the omicron variant made people think that it might not be that bad after all’, he says. ‘That it was so mild that we’d be rid of it pretty soon.’ He admits this might have been a bit naive.
Medical student Julie van Dijk knows a booster wouldn’t help her right now: she just recovered from Covid. She does feel responsible to get that extra shot if she needs to, though. She hasn’t been able to see her grandparents since the pandemic started. ‘The booster would protect me better. I don’t see why anyone would refuse if it protects vulnerable people.’
The Corona Barometer shows that more students share this sentiment. According to the latest numbers, 58 percent of students are worried about a loved one getting sick. Ten weeks ago, this number was at 51 percent.
However, when it comes to house parties, this concern suddenly disappears. ‘I’ll admit that it’s a little hypocritical’, says Carlijn. She, too, goes to parties sometimes. The students who do so accept the risk of getting infected. ‘There’s a good chance of contracting Covid if you go to a party’, says Lisanne. ‘At that point, it’s your own choice.’
Over the past two years, the mental well-being of especially students has taken a blow
Lude Franke, Corona Barometer
In an effort to minimise the damage, students self-test all the time, because, as Carlijn says: ‘We’re all completely over having to quarantine all the time.’ She also carefully considers which parties she attends. ‘If I have an internship coming up or I need to go somewhere I make sure I haven’t seen too many people beforehand’, Julie says.
It’s a difficult situation that’s awkward for the students. ‘I think it’s important that people get vaccinated, but at the same time, I do go to parties’, says Julie. ‘So many students are suffering from a little covid depression. Maybe it’s because they’ve got no outlets’, she says. ‘We want to go out and meet new people, it’s what we’re supposed to do at this age.’
That’s completely natural, says Franke. ‘I have great memories of my time as a student, especially because I went to class and made new friends. I totally understand that students miss this.’ This is also reflected in the numbers, he explains.
‘Over the past two years, the mental well-being of especially students has taken a blow’, Franke says. Students currently rate their quality of life at a 7 out of 10. That may not seem like a worrying grade, but it actually is, he says.
‘Very few people actually score their life at a 5 or a 10. The number is usually somewhere between a 6 and a 9. That means a shift from a 7.4 to a 7 is a pretty big change. Plus, the difference has only increased over the course of the pandemic.’
The students say they no longer feel like there are things they ‘shouldn’t’ be doing.’ ‘Two years is too long’, says Lisanne. ‘We need to liven things up again.’ Carlijn agrees. ‘Almost everyone is vaccinated now. Let’s get back to it.’