TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Thousands of University of Alabama students are back on campus. Wednesday was the first day of the Spring semester amid rising COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant. Students are required to wear a mask in the classroom and inside campus buildings.

Kaitlyn Wheeler is a freshman student who is hoping the mask mandate will help keep students and faculty safe from the virus.

“I think it was a good idea for the school to bring back mask wearing again, especially with this virus, it spreads like crazy and I think everybody should be wearing a mask. And I also love that the school is pushing for people to get vaccinated as well,” said Wheeler.

Although it’s not required, campus officials are encouraging students to get vaccinated. Dr. Richard Friend is the Dean at the UA College of community Health Sciences.

“We know that we can have face to face classes safely with everyone masking. And we know the experience for students and faculty is better if we can have a more normal learning experience. Our goal is to make sure the students have a safe and productive semester just like we have demonstrated we can do despite the changing healthcare environment,” Friend said.

Dr. Friend says the university still offers multiple isolation and quarantine beds on campus. Officials are encouraging students to go home if it’s safe for the isolation period due to the limited number of beds available.

COVID testing is not mandatory for returning students, which Kaitlyn Wheeler says is a mistake.

“I personally got tested before I came back to campus even though it’s not required because I wouldn’t feel good if I went back to school and I had COVID. If people want to stay in in-person classes, they need to get tested,” Wheeler said.

The university says they are doing their best to keep all students in the classroom and are hoping not to go back to virtual remote learning, but officials are prepared to do that if it becomes necessary.