Students at the University of Idaho returned to campus Wednesday for their fifth semester afflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olivia Niemi, a sophomore at the university, said that while she’s excited to be back and attending classes in person, she’s nervous about rising cases fueled by the omicron variant.

“I’m vaccinated and I wear my mask anytime I go out for school or if I’m in a store,” Niemi said. “I’m mostly nervous to see the rise on campus here especially because there is such a low vaccination rate.”

Public Health – Idaho North Central District reported 58 cases of COVID-19 in Latah County on Wednesday, with the majority of infections in young adults ages 18-29.

University officials say no cases have been traced back to the classroom. Health and safety protocols from last semester, including a mask requirement inside all buildings on the Moscow campus, will continue. While vaccination for COVID-19 isn’t required, it’s highly encouraged.

The protocols will be up for review again in early February, according to a recent email from UI President Scott Green sent to students, faculty and staff.

“The omicron variant of COVID-19 has been reported in Latah County and is expected to significantly impact our community,” Green stated in the email. “While we all may feel frustrated this virus has not run its course, we are grateful to have had excellent compliance in our classrooms and ask our students and faculty to continue to maintain our high standards.”

According to Niemi, it’s been hard not having a normal college experience.

“Not only the experience, but the education,” Niemi said. “I feel like I’m missing out on what I could have been getting if it wasn’t impacted by COVID-19.”

Michael Eze, a senior at UI, said despite the circumstances, he’s glad classes are continuing in person. This semester is his last before graduating.

“I’m a bit worried, but I know the university has taken the necessary precautions for students to be safe,” Eze said. “I have faith in the university.”

Both of the students encountered bad weather during the winter break.

Eze said he headed to Georgia for the break but initially his flight got delayed. And because of the snow and ice, the car flipped on the drive to the Spokane International Airport. He said the roads were clear of snow on the way back.

On her way home, Niemi said she drove about 15 miles per hour down the treacherous roads between Lewiston and White Bird amid a winter storm with strong winds.

“The snow was blowing into the road and it was bad,” she said. “I probably passed about seven cars that were in the snow banks. Coming back was a lot easier.”

Palermo can be reached at apalermo@dnews.com or on Twitter @apalermotweets.

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