PALO ALTO, U.S./TAIPEI/HONG KONG -- Tom Zeng's sophomore year at Queens College, City University of New York, began with a video message from the chancellor followed by days of video lectures. His fellow students, normally a rowdy and gleeful presence, replaced with a checkerboard of anonymous, disembodied Zoom icons. He left his apartment only once last week, for the rare chance to actually take a class in person.
Getting to the campus was no simple feat: Students and faculty have to fill out a wellness check survey and go through a health screening before entering any building. With the majority of classes held remotely for the fall semester, most buildings on campus are closed. Hallways normally full of laughing and hugging at the beginning of each semester were eerily quiet; classmates and teachers greeting each other with a distanced wave and a nod. In the classroom, less than a dozen students sit, spread across a large lecture hall, wearing a barrage of multicolored masks.