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A Kansas City college student hoped to finally enjoy a normal semester: 'But then omicron happened'

File photo by Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
Faith Andrews-O’Neal finished her last year of high school virtually at St. Teresa's Academy in Kansas City in the spring of 2020, and started college that fall online.

Faith Andrews-O’Neal, a Raymore native who's in her sophomore year at Columbia University, has gotten a study in contrasts in how New York handles the pandemic differently from Missouri.

As the U.S. ends its second calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic, KCUR wanted to hear from members of the greater Kansas City community about their experiences and reflections.

Faith Andrews-O’Neal is a Raymore, Missouri, native who's currently in her sophomore year at Columbia University in New York City. She finished her last year of high school virtually, at St. Teresa's Academy in Kansas City, in the spring of 2020, and started college that fall online.

After moving to New York for her second semester, Andrews-O'Neal got a study in contrasts by seeing first-hand how that state handled the COVID-19 pandemic differently from Missouri.

"It's scary now because of all the breakthrough cases, but in general, I did feel a lot safer in New York due to the higher vaccine rates," she told KCUR's Nomin Ujiyediin. "Like they reached 70% vaccination in June, right before I left. So I felt a little bit more comfortable like going out then maybe I would here."

Interview highlights

On her experiences during the pandemic

I spend a lot of time with my grandma when I'm home, so of course, just having to be really careful about what I do and who I see when I'm in Missouri has been the hardest part for me. And then at school, of course, New York was an epicenter, so that made it tricky. But then when they reached 70% vaccination, it seemed like everything was going a lot better. And this semester, things felt pretty normal in the beginning. I was getting tested weekly to make sure I could still access my newspaper offices. So I was able to keep an eye on it through that.

I was vaccinated, and things seemed to open up in like an entertainment standpoint, which made it seem it was what going to college in New York would be like normally. But then omicron happened and things kind of shut back down again, at least for me and my friends, and that made it very, very stressful, just being somewhere that's so like densely populated and not knowing what steps you need to take, to where you're still able to live the life of a college student to some extent, but also keeping yourself and your loved one safe, especially as we all went to travel home.

On attending college in-person for the first time

I know that it's better, but it is definitely more challenging. I think online classes, you're able to be a bit lax in that, you know, you're in your room, you're in pajamas. You don't have to really get up more than a couple minutes before class starts cause you can just kind of roll out of bed in your T-shirt. Especially in big lectures where you can be camera off, there were times I would like eat lunch with my friends in the dining hall, and we would just like all be in class on our phones with like one AirPod in, but not really paying attention. So in that way, it's definitely an adjustment to have to like be prepared and go to class.

On how New York City is handling the pandemic right now

Every time you go anywhere, there's a vaccine mandate. So for indoor dining or anything like that, you have to show proof of vaccination before entering any space that's like indoors where you might not wear masks. So that's made things feel a lot safer. Columbia as a university reached a 100% vaccination earlier in the semester too, so that made gathering with people on campus also feel a lot safer.

And then there's just mask mandates, so when you're walking places — like of course outdoors, maybe not — but when you're on transit, pretty much everyone has on masks, when you're shopping in stores, pretty much everyone has on masks. So it does feel like you're less likely to catch it and then transmit it there, versus here.

On her plans for 2022

Mostly just figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life, I guess, which is a bit terrifying to think about.

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