Second, third and fourth-year students returned Aug. 22 and began the 2021 fall term on August 24. The opening of the semester coincided with new guidelines regarding masking and social-distancing. Furman operated in a relaxed state throughout the summer months, with vaccinated students and faculty not wearing masks. The relaxation of rules was largely due to the decreased amount of students on campus and the rate of vaccination among staff and students alike. But, the question naturally arose of what COVID-19 policies would look like heading into the fall.

Furman students received an email on Aug. 13 outlining continued precautions along with the loosening of many social-distancing rules campus previously held. Updated policies point to a return to normalcy, alongside the further persistence of masking. After the first two weeks of classes, the Furman Focused dashboard was becoming increasingly optimistic - Furman announced in a Sept. 3 email they would allow overnight trips sponsored by the University. Within the email, the COVID Response Committee wrote with pride, saying "Thank you again for doing everything you can to protect the health and safety of our community."

Variants of praise and criticism have been heard around campus - some students want to push back against the administration's rules, while others are unbothered by the policies. When asked, Junior Conor McFarland said, “I think Furman’s mask policy this year is a bit redundant; Furman established a clear vaccine mandate/exemption system. 88% of campus is fully vaccinated and I believe it is kind of ridiculous that we have to wear masks in academic buildings... I also do not think it makes sense...that during an academic setting we necessitate masks, which makes it harder to engage with students and professors, while we do not in the actual higher-traffic areas where there is a higher likelihood for spreading the virus.”

On the opposing side, Sophomore Conor Bready said “Honestly I don’t think it’s that bad. I understand that it’s mainly to protect the faculty because they are at higher risk than most students, so I think it’s reasonable.”

The question also naturally arises regarding the time frame for these new policies. The current mask mandates may not be necessary in a few months when, hopefully, the delta variant is not as prevalent as it is now; however, there remains the possibility that protocols will become stricter as cases continue to rise into the deeper fall and winter months. After all, the most recent Furman Focused update from Sept. 10 notes 16 positive student cases reported to the Earle Health Center.