The OU international community held a Zoom town hall for international students to discuss winter break travel during COVID-19 and the impact the presidential election will have on immigration.
OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler, the College of International Studies Dean Scott Fritzen and several international studies professors were included on the town hall’s panel.
Bratzler said, for international students going back home during the break, wearing a mask throughout time spent on the plane and in the airport is the most important precaution to take.
“If I were going to tell you the one most important thing that you can do, (it) would be to wear a mask from the moment you arrive at the airport … until you get out of the plane at your destination airport at the end of your trip,” Bratzler said. “I know for international travel, that's a bit harder. But please do as much as you can to keep your mask on throughout the entire flight.”
Bratzler also said vaccination may soon become the “passport for travel” for international students, though he said the timeline on the vaccination of faculty, staff and students is currently unknown.
“I think it's going to be a while before most students, staff and faculty get any vaccines,” Bratzler said. “But with a little luck and a bunch of vaccines, perhaps for the fall semester of 2021, maybe we can have the university experience being a bit more (normal) than everybody expected it to be. So (we) just don't know the timeline, it'll depend on how many vaccine doses are out, available, and how many people take it.”
According to the OU Staff Senate Chair-elect Justin Daniels, OU has a plan for the COVID-19 vaccine that includes OU faculty and staff and people with underlying health conditions receiving the vaccine in the spring. The university later released a statement saying the plan is not yet finalized, however.
Bratzler said he doesn’t think the university will move fully online for the spring, even amid the rising cases in Oklahoma — a sentiment echoed by Fritzen.
“My best prediction for the spring is very much what fall looked like. I can't think of any exceptions to that, you will have a similar setup in the classroom. We will have a similar balance of online, hybrid and in-person courses — at least, that is intended right now,” Fritzen said. “We're trying to fix the schedule as we speak, but it looks like it will be roughly in the same parameters. So I suspect all of the same flexibilities.”
However, the spring semester will look different for international students due to the transition with the U.S. presidency per Nima Zecavati, the university’s immigration counsel.
Zecavati said the difference for international students will be “night and day” as the country begins the transition to President-elect Joseph Biden's administration.
“(Biden’s) already stated that he intends to reinstate some of the restrictions that have been put on the DACA program on his first day. The Muslim travel ban, for our students from places like Iran, will be removed on the first day, according to President-elect Biden,” Zecavati said. “So there are a number of things that he can do very quickly, but there were four years of regulations that were put in place and obviously those will take years to undo.”