Students travel across US during COVID-19 pandemic

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Photo Credit: Barbra Daly | Daily Texan Staff

After walking by the Paul Revere House and the Boston Harbor, Alejandro Neff stopped at a coffee shop to attend his software programming lecture.
 
“I get my notebook out (and) use my noise-canceling headphones,” Neff, an electrical and computer engineering sophomore, said. “That’s the beauty of online learning — it can be done anywhere.”
 
Neff said he has flown to Boston, Massachusetts, twice in the past four months to visit high school friends at Harvard University, and he plans on returning for Halloween. He said flights are cheap right now and visits can be extended because class is virtual.
 
Some students, like Neff, are taking advantage of virtual learning and are traveling to optimize their experience during the school year.
 
“There’s nothing new around (Austin), and I get sick of being cooped up in my apartment,” Neff said. “Traveling is worth it just to go see something else, to have a change of scenery so you don’t go insane.”
 
He said most airlines like Southwest and JetBlue have planes filled at two-thirds capacity, and wearing masks is required inside the airport and on the plane.
 
Before traveling to Boston, Neff filled out a travel form that required him to be able to present negative COVID-19 test results. He said he had taken the test three days prior to arriving in Boston. 
 
“It sounds irresponsible to travel now, but airports are very cautious,” Neff said. “The air inside is constantly being filtered, (and) the airport staff are wiping down kiosks and tray tables after each person uses it. Honestly, it’s less crowded than H-E-B.”
 
Julia Petersen, a human development and family sciences sophomore, flew to visit her family in Birmingham, Alabama, last week. She said airport security in Austin ensured everyone wore a durable N95 or cloth mask before entering the airport.
 
“I usually only see my family for short periods during the holidays, like for Easter or Thanksgiving,” Petersen said. “But because classes are online and flying is so easy, I plan on coming home more often and extending my visits.” 
 
Petersen said visiting her family feels like a vacation. It allows her to de-stress from Zoom fatigue and get out of her Austin apartment.  
 
Undeclared sophomore Ella Moody also traveled home to visit her family in Little Rock, Arkansas. She usually flies home but decided to drive out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. 
 
Moody said she only stopped once on her eight-hour drive to avoid contact with others. She said she only stayed three days because she felt too distracted to work on school.  

 

“I don’t get to see my family that often, so I (would) rather be spending time with them than doing work,” Moody said. “At my apartment it’s different. I fixate on my homework because what else is there to do?”
  
Neff said he’s noticed how some COVID-19 precautions vary from state to state. He said in Boston, restaurants don’t allow indoor dining, and police can fine people for not wearing masks. 
 
Petersen and Moody said wearing masks and social distancing is rare in both Alabama and Arkansas. 
 
“People (in Alabama) assume if you’re wearing a mask you’re a Biden supporter, so (wearing masks) has become highly politicized,” Petersen said. “I feel like people (in Alabama) have (more relaxed) attitudes about COVID-19 compared to Texas.”
 
Petersen, Moody and Neff said traveling gives them something to mark on their calendars and motivation to continue with virtual learning. 

“There’s not much to look forward to,” Neff said. “In Austin, you can only repeat the same stuff: go to Zilker (Metropolitan Park), hike Barton (Creek Greenbelt), eat at a food truck. Traveling somewhere new gives you a break from the regular thing. It’s what’s kept me sane.”