As winter nears, students worry about safe meetups


Daily file photo by Haley Fuller

Norris University Center. Though usually packed during midterms, the quiet atmosphere of Norris this fall promotes distanced studying opportunities for students on campus.

Eva Herscowitz, Reporter

With COVID-19 restrictions limiting on-campus common space options, students have traded Norbucks meetups for afternoons on the Lakefill. But as temperatures drop and students flock indoors, the extent of safe meetups remains unclear. 

Students living off campus, like Medill sophomore Vaibhavi Hemasundar, are spending more time outdoors to safely socialize. Instead of gathering indoors, Hemasundar said she frequently grabs coffee with friends and drinks it outside coffee shops, or gathers with others at the tables near Fountain Square.

The University has temporarily closed the eastern path of the Lakefill until at least December to work on an Emergency Coastal Stabilization project. Still, Hemasundar said socially distanced picnics and walks on parts of the Lakefill she can access have become her go-to activities.

“It’s been really nice to take walks around the Lakefill, because you run into people who you saw on campus all the time last year,” she said. “It has that campus vibe.”

Weinberg sophomore Kayla Ro said she’s created an informal “bubble” with her roommates and two close friends. To connect with those outside of her bubble, Ro said she’s also taken to eating meals in outdoor common spaces.

To avoid spending time in others’ apartments, Weinberg sophomore Iris Swarthout said she often talks to friends at the Sherman Avenue Starbucks, which currently offers indoor seating, and the field near Norris University Center. She said she’s comfortable going to the apartments of a few close friends, adding that she’s kept her bubble “pretty small.”

Despite limiting indoor gatherings, Swarthout said she’s been able to meet new people since “people are pretty socially deprived anyway.”

But winter is coming in Evanston, which students say will make the possibility of meeting outdoors more difficult. According to health experts, congregating indoors gives viral particles less room to disperse, increasing the spread of COVID-19. With lower temperatures pushing people inside, Ro said she instead plans to FaceTime friends in the winter to decrease the risk of COVID-19.

“I don’t think I want to brave it when it’s snowing outside,” Ro said.

Communication senior Rahma Almajid said she’s spending most of her time in her off-campus apartment. Sometimes, she said she drives to Chicago to get coffee with friends or walk around the city’s neighborhoods. She said she’s concerned that colder weather will make these socially-distanced gatherings more challenging.

“People are probably going to start hanging out at each other’s apartments, and I don’t foresee the pandemic getting any better in the near future,” Almajid said.

Swarthout, however, said she predicts students will refrain from convening in each others’ apartments as winter nears. Instead, she said she expects larger indoor spaces, like apartment lobbies, to become popular places for quick meetups.

To Hemasundar, the approaching cold weather is nerve-wracking. While she hopes students continue to safely socialize, she acknowledged that infrequent meetups will be hard — especially on a campus where many students experience seasonal affective disorder.

“I’m personally thinking about getting several plants to just put in my room so it feels more alive,” she said. “I’m genuinely scared for winter, but we’ll see.”

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