“It’s a big deal,” Professor of Nursing Dr. Sarah Neal said. “Where we’re at right now is a whole lot of bad. We are in the red zone in Madison County.”
For the last 10 months, the world has been ambushed with a pandemic that has changed the normal way of life. Many students have had to adjust to online learning and businesses everywhere have been forced to close their doors.
“We can mitigate a lot of spread if we change our behaviors,” Neal said.
Neal, who has been at AU for 21 years, insists that students need to be wearing masks and social distancing.
“One of the values in our nation is individual freedoms,” said Neal.
Neal, who is a hugger herself, understands that Americans have become accustomed to such privileges as not being told what to do.
“I said from the beginning—that’s going to be the death of us,” Neal continued.
After almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, people still complain about masks being uncomfortable or inconvenient.
“Having [students] come back with a test is the single best thing we could have done,” Neal said. “We captured positives that had no idea—not just students, but faculty as well.”
Neal believes that a majority of the people diagnosed with COVID-19 do not realize they are infected and that it is important to keep a safe distance from others for that very reason.
“The cases are driven by 20-29-year-olds,” Neal said. “[They] have the most infections, but 80% of [them] don’t know it.”
In order to keep the campus safe this semester, the known positive students have been isolated from others. Testing will continue to be done to allow students to enjoy the campus and their classes as much as possible.
For Neal, it’s all about assessment. She plans to be mindful of what is happening on campus in real time.
“I do a lot of reading and research to stay on top of things,” Neal said. “When someone says to me ‘I’ve got this weird [symptom]. Do you think that could be COVID?’ I investigate.”
Studying the virus and learning everything about how to respond to it is a top priority for Neal.
“That’s what helps me know how to lead,” Neal continued.
Staying in the loop about the coronavirus is imperative, according to Neal.
“I don’t want this to be restrictive, though I understand that it is,” said Neal. “That’s no fun for any of us. I look at how we can do what we did before with more safety.”
Neal explained that “large gatherings are the worst possible thing.”
While Neal understands the need and desire to be social, limiting one’s number of in-person contacts is crucial for the continuation of residential life at AU.
When looking toward the future, Neal believes that normalcy will be able to resume.
“We’re creatures of habit,” said Neal. “Everything within us pulls us back into our routines and the things that we know and love.”
Neal also expressed her belief that COVID-19 will happen every year, just like cold and flu season. She said that everyone should get the vaccine, just like the flu shot.
“There are some things that won’t go back to normal,” said Neal. “Some occupations that were done in person before the pandemic hit will now be online. We have found the convenience of doing everything virtually.”
In order to obtain some sense of normalcy again, Neal stressed the importance of social-distancing and mask-wearing. She encourages everyone to do their part and continue following the rules put in place for the safety of the AU community.
“Don’t think you’re above this,” said Neal.