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Penn State Schuylkill students sound off on indoor mask mandate

Students are back on campus this week, looking forward to a new semester that's more normal than the last. Still, one campus in Schuylkill County is masking up.

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. — It may still be summertime, but it's starting to look a lot more like fall at Penn State Schuylkill. 600 students returned to campus in Schuylkill Haven for the first day of classes on Monday, 190 of them staying in on-campus apartments.

The walkways filled with students again after a year of hybrid learning.

"It was so different walking around and seeing not many people here," said Courtney Weikel. "The campus environment was not really the same."

The senior is excited to see the campus abuzz.

"It means absolutely everything, especially my last year," Weikel said. "I'm really hoping to just go out with a bang, I guess."

Freshman nursing student Briana Terry said online learning wasn't for her.

"Being on campus and actually being able to go inside the building and hear my professors talk and understand what they're saying, and I'm going to be able to go up to them and ask them questions in person feels better," she said.

Being in class helps Freshman John Ott stay focused.

"Since I'm there, I actually pay attention more, unlike my senior year of high school," Ott said. "I'd be at home in my room, many distractions, my tv, game set."

Though the campus looks more normal, not all the COVID-19 protocols are gone. All students and faculty must wear masks inside campus buildings regardless of their vaccination status; a requirement met with mixed reactions.

"I don't want to mask. You can do without the mask," Terry said. "Like they say, if you feel like you're sick or something, literally stay home. Do not come outside, do not try to interact with nobody."

"I'm just kind of going with what we gotta do at the moment," Weikel said. "I kind of don't like wearing it, especially when it's this hot out, but you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes."

"I'm fine with wearing a mask as long as I can be in-person to actually learn," Ott added.

A Penn State Schuylkill representative said any student who does not provide proof they've received a COVID-19 vaccination will be tested once a week during the semester.

The school is encouraging students to get vaccinated, referring them to local providers and pharmacies.

Ott said he's choosing to wait.

"I mask up, I socially distance, wash my hands, use hand sanitizer, all that," Ott said. "I take the precautions. I just haven't gotten the vaccine yet."

This week is a fresh start for college students, still marked by the ongoing pandemic.