FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — Thousands of students are back in Fayetteville as the spring semester kicks off on the University of Arkansas campus. This is also as the highly transmissible Omicron variant continues to surge and COVID hospitalizations have reached an all-time high in Arkansas on Tuesday.

“I definitely have a lot of concerns revolving around COVID,” said student Laurel Bellando.

“The campus actually was a little hard because back in my hometown, there’s a COVID spike,” said student Jhailen Nicholson.

Some Razorback students like Bellando and Nicholson said they had some nerves about returning to campus for the new semester.

“I definitely think it’s a mix on how students are taking this precaution wise,” said Bellando. “I think that half the student body is definitely taking it very seriously, and then half the student body just could not care less.”

Fayetteville Health Officer Dr. Marti Sharkey said we’ve been in this situation before, where students are returning to class amid a surge in a new variant.

“We were seeing a rise in cases and they continued to rise when the students came back,” she said. “But it’s very hard to ferret out how much would have occurred without them arriving versus with them. But we did see our numbers increase at that time, so we’re prepared for that. We’ve seen this before unfortunately.”

The university said it’s preparing with some changes.

“One of those is the masking guidance which we announced last week,” said spokesperson John Thomas. “We will require masks to be worn in all indoor settings, regardless of social distancing.”

There are some exceptions to that rule. According to the university’s press release, masks can be taken off in a private office or private room, in residence hall private rooms and community bathrooms, dining rooms when people are sitting and eating, and during sanctioned activities in the athletic program.

Dr. Sharkey said she supports a mask mandate. The Board of Health recommends masks if our local hospitalizations are above 130 and our ICU’s are above 100. She said on Tuesday, our area hospitals have 155 hospitalizations and our ICU’s have 107.

Thomas hopes that masks will help slow the spike in people who need tests.

“Last semester, obviously, the case numbers were down across the state, but we were really encouraged by everyone following the guidance that was in a place that includes in our classrooms,” he said.

Starting on Tuesday and going through February 18th, Thomas said the university has a third-party testing location outside between the union and the library where anyone with a university ID can get a PCR test. He urges people who are asymptomatic or are a close contact to a positive case to take advantage of this site.

He said people who are symptomatic should go to the Pat Walker Health Center, which has rapid tests ready to go.

He also said the university has a reporting system where people can report others who are not following the university’s COVID protocols.

Nicholson said he plans to keep his classmates accountable.

“Just encourage them to at least try to get your vaccine and try to wear your mask, at least wear your mask,” he said.