Like most students, Mario Nichols, a communications major at JSU, did not intend on finishing his spring semester online. But, the onslaught of COVID-19 abruptly changed plans for many throughout the country.
In addition to a unique learning situation, Nichols also spent 14 days sequestered in his Jackson apartment after his spring break trip to San Francisco. It was a precautionary measure before returning to his health care job at a local hospital. Now back at work, Nichols believes time is on our side.
“I was in San Francisco when I found out spring break had been extended, and we were transitioning to online classes,” said the Jackson native. “Initially, I felt like the entire country was overreacting.”
Nichols said he believed the virus was similar to the everyday cold or flu and that following basic safety guidelines like hand washing would be sufficient. “Once I began hearing about the deaths and how contagious it was, my mind started to change. That’s when I got a little concerned.”
By the time Nichols and a friend flew to California on March 11, news surrounding the pandemic was not nearly the fever pitch it is today. Information was evolving slowly, and social distancing had yet to be mentioned.
“The week before we were set to leave, San Francisco was kind of deemed an epicenter. I was a lit bit nervous. My friend not so much,” he said. “Honestly, we had spent so much money booking the trip. It was not something we wanted to waste.”
Once in California, Nichols said it was a noticeable absence of people. “My friend has been there before. And compared to other times he’s been, it was kind of like a ghost town,” he said of San Francisco. “The city is usually more vibrant. There are typically more people.”
At the time, San Fran had yet to issue a shelter-in-place order. So, the friends made the most of their visit by hitting up vineyards, dining at restaurants and sightseeing. But soon, Nichols said he realized that COVID-19 concerns were growing more serious throughout the nation.
“I posted a picture on Facebook, and my coworker commented, ‘I hope you’re getting your 14 days off,’” he said.
For clarity, Nichols reached out to his immediate supervisor, who directed him to an employee screening hotline and confirmed that he would need to quarantine for two weeks before coming back to work.
Upon returning to Jackson, Nichols did as instructed and stayed in his apartment. “I have to admit. It was kind of difficult. My parents brought me groceries and stuff to make sure I was comfortable and didn’t have a reason to leave the house,” he said. “My mom wanted to hug me, but we couldn’t. I had just come from California, and I needed to protect her.”
When it comes to his college classes, Nichols said he is dealing with the transition to online. “Honestly, I wasn’t excited about it because I prefer in-person learning. I think we retain information better face to face.”
Still, the aspiring public relations professional said he believes Jackson State University made the right decision by offering alternative instructional methods, implementing social distancing and other safety guidelines. Nichols said he is also grateful for the assistance of the university’s professors and support staff.
He acknowledges Dr. Etta Morgan, chair of the Criminal Justice and Sociology Department, and Kenya Washington, academic adviser, for assisting him with the online process and summer registration.
“There was even a moment where we used FaceTime to make sure we got everything right,” he said. “I wasn’t used to that. I just felt like they went above the call of duty to make sure everything is in place, and everything is as it should be for the next semester.”
Overall, Nichols said he is optimistic about the future. “Time is our best friend. We have the time to realize what is important. People are also finding creative ways to stay connected. Musicians are doing (virtual) concerts in their homes for free. It’s amazing. It’s nice that people are putting in the effort to make the best out of a bad situation.”