By Max Weissman | May 11, 2021
The steady trickle of students entering the basketball gym to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine matched the pace of the light rain giving life to the tulips in full bloom near the entrance to the SEFCU arena.
For many in line this day in early April, the vaccine is the start of putting a difficult year behind them and focusing on a brighter one to follow, hopefully one filled with friends and family, no masks, and the return of a sense of belonging.
Wearing a vest nearly as bright as the sparkle of excitement in his eyes, volunteer Charles Rogers directs students toward the stairs that lead down onto the courts where about two dozen registered nurses and university student nurses, swab arms with alcohol before injecting what is the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine for many.
“I had a lot of friends who've lost loved ones who've contracted COVID-19,” said Rogers, the Associate Dean of Students, waving another group of UAlbany students down the stairs to tables where volunteers check them in before they get their shot. “I’m very interested and concerned and making sure students are vaccinated. You know, because they are our community.”
Rogers looks at the line of students behind him, sparser now than earlier in the day, but still moving at a quick clip. “Believe it or not, between like 11 to 12:05 p.m. it was like two lines. That was exciting,” he said, his mask wrinkling slightly in a clear indication of a smile behind it. A few more student's approach, one is wearing a short sleeve t-shirt and cargo shorts as the two behind him have windbreakers with their loose-fitting sweatpants tucked into their socks.
Rogers welcomes them with a hello before one asks, “Do we go down the stairs for the vaccine?"
With an enthusiastic wave toward the courts at the bottom of the stairs, he states, “Yep, just go right downstairs.”
They replied with a “thank you,” all harmonizing in the same tone of excitement.
Down on the courts, near the foot of the stairs, students are asked to follow green arrows, taped to the floor that are strategically placed 6 feet apart. After checking in these bring them through a zig-zag line made from caution tape tied to traffic cones, they resemble the ones movie theaters had when at full capacity. They then wait by a volunteer who looks out into the sea of tables and nurses for a volunteer behind a computer at each table to raise a laminated green card; indicating that tables nurse is ready. An escort nods at the next student, who stands up and is led to one of the nurses at center court where she prepares the next shot.
Alcohol. Swab, Jab. Another student closer to a safer start next fall. Another green laminated card gets lifted. Another student heads for center court. Only several thousand more students to go, hopefully, for a safer return to campus for the next academic year.
At the other end of court, students sit alone in chairs, spaced six feet apart, looking at their phones while nurses' pace up and down checking for any allergic reactions. To the side, small groups of faculty volunteers all wearing masks and fully bulletproofed against the virus gather as if they were at a neighborhood BBQ who used their 15 minutes to catch up with each other and talk about what the future beholds. They are a sign of things to come for the students who are now patiently waiting for their time to be up.
Daniel Hergott, a master's student at UAlbany , who had just reached the top of the stairs after waiting his 15 min. “Needed to get a vaccine because I was traveling this summer, so I was going to get the vaccine no matter what. I just needed to get it so I can travel, go wherever,” he said, standing next to a metal framed signed that held a small yellow poster paper promoting the hashtag ‘#GetVaxxedUAlbany’ pressed between two panels of glass.
For other students their habits after getting the vaccine “[won’t change] too much, you know. I'm still going to wear a mask in public, but I might feel a bit better when I'm like walking around the park without a mask on. Or you know, something like that in the outdoors. But I don't know. I'm still going to be like social distancing... Being wary of stuff 'cause it's not 100% effective. You know I have bad luck sometimes,” Tianny Ocasio a graduate student at UAlbany says at the top of the stairs.
“Today, it was actually the one-year anniversary of my grandmother passing away from COVID,” said Dylan Klein, a sophomore, outside by the exit fifteen minutes after getting his first dose. “This is shot meant a lot more than just getting vaccinated. It was the closing of a chapter.”