LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas colleges across the state are getting ready to welcome back students, some for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

With cases on the rise, many are taking a second look at COVID guidelines and precautions; but for some students in Little Rock, this upcoming semester may feel a bit more normal.

For Kayla Johnson, it’s the first time she’s stepped foot on the University of Arkansas Little Rock campus.

The first-year nursing student has taken only virtual classes, but a move to the city meant she was finally able to take classes in-person, something many of her classmates are excited to do again.

“It’s a different experience,” Johnson said. “I really like it.”

With COVID cases reaching a new spike this summer, many enrolled in the university wondered what this upcoming semester would look like, and if things would be similar to last year or go back to normal.

“That’s the number one question we receive from students and their parents,” explained Kindle Holderby, assistant vice chancellor of enrollment. “What is the fall going to look like?”

Holderby said the university has been closely monitoring COVID numbers through their Critical Incident Response Team and checking guidelines from both the CDC and ADH.

He said even with a rise in COVID cases, students will be welcomed back with smiling faces this fall as the school moves into its final COVID phase.

“As of August 2nd,” Holderby explained, “we’re planning on going into phase 4, which is pretty much back to normal for us.”

That means no more social distancing requirements, mask mandates, and plexiglass dividers separating students and staff. Now, it’ll be up to students if they want to wear a mask and social distance or get the COVID vaccine, options that are available to all.

For Johnson, she said she’s already been vaccinated, adding, “for the most part, I think it is very good extra protection.”

Johnson also said although the mask mandate is set to end next month, many of her nursing professors continue to keep covered, and encourage students to do the same.

“They said that they’re still going to be wearing masks and they really recommend us to,” she said.

For students unable to return to campus this fall or for those still hesitant, U A Little Rock will continue to offer virtual classes to students and will hold vaccine clinics on campus.

Their health center started issuing doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine Tuesday.