The University of Connecticut is continuing with its plan to reopen campus for classes, starting Aug. 31, after enacting a range of new policies.
There is a week remaining before classes begin and UConn is up to 17 cases with 16 people in isolation.
How many cases would it take for the school to shift back to online?
There is not a set number or ratio of cases that would force the school to close on-campus housing, according to University Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz.
“The litmus test would be how well the University can respond and isolate them to prevent a spread,” Reitz said via email. “Of course if there’s a growing prevalence that threatens our ability to provide a safe on-campus experience, we would need to pivot.”
UConn does, however, have a plan if it needs to close down, Reitz said. It does not want to be too reactive, she said. The university is trying to establish a new way of life rather than trying to “operate as if we’re in a permanent state of emergency,” Reitz said.
“Our plan is drawn up to be nimble and to recognize that this disease changes course quickly, and it allows us to quickly respond to that,” Reitz said. “We’ve seen from other institutions in other states that cases can rise swiftly, so it’s important to have abundant testing and universal precautions in place to limit spread.”
Multiple schools around the country have already shut down their re-opening attempts after spikes in cases.
UNC-Chapel Hill, Notre Dame and NC State shifted classes to online after experiencing steep increases in cases. Chapel Hill had its positivity rate climb from 2.8% to 13.6% after the first week of classes, according to a letter to students from UNC Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz.
NC State’s case spike could be linked to off-campus parties, University Chancellor Randy Woodson said in a statement.
Last Wednesday, Purdue University suspended 36 students for attending a party in an on-campus house, according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier.
UConn removed several students from on-campus housing because of an unsanctioned dorm party, according to Dean of Students Eleanor JB Daugherty in an email on Aug. 18. A video of the party emerged on social media, depicting multiple students without masks.
What would a potential shutdown be like?
A potential shutdown would look similar to what happened in mid-March of the spring semester, according to UConn’s reopening report to the state of Connecticut.
UConn President Thomas Katsouleas has the power to initiate a shutdown. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, Mansfield Interim Town Manager John Carrington and other public health officials do as well.
In a shutdown situation, students would be notified via email of the school’s plans to move to online classes. Students will be asked to pack all of their belongings and return their keys. Students without access to transportation for their property will be asked to pack and move it to another location, and the university will provide information about shipping it from there.
Student’s belongings will not be allowed to stay on campus, unlike this past spring.
The report says students without other housing options will be able to submit a request to stay on campus, which will be reviewed by a committee that will approve or deny their request. Students in quarantine at the time of a shutdown can stay on campus until they are no longer contagious, according to the report.
Faculty have been told to prepare for a swift shift to fully online classes, the report says, in case of a shutdown.
What steps has the university taken to control the virus?
The university has separated re-opening into two phases: An initial three-day in-room quarantine until test results are available, and then a 14-day quarantine that expands permitted movement to small-scale outdoor activities.
Every student and staff member who is appearing on campus has been tested or will be tested upon arrival to campus, according to UConn’s re-opening website.
Residential students were required to be tested upon move-in and off-campus students are required to submit a negative test within 14 days of the first day of classes.
Each off-campus student was sent an email explaining how to register for a test through UConn’s testing partner Vault Medical.
Students can also acquire a test on their own and submit results to the university through the SHaW Patient Portal.
Students coming to campus from out of state hot-zones were put into a separate 14-day quarantine as well.
UConn’s Kendra Maas, a facility scientist in the Microbial Analysis, Resources and Services laboratory (MARS), is also actively reviewing the sewage of on-campus buildings to the levels of COVID-19 within an area.
“There were several studies pretty early on suggesting that you can measure abundance of COVID-19 genes in wastewater, and that it mirrored the case level – if cases went up, the abundance of COVID that you could measure went up,” Maas said in a UConn Today article from Aug. 18. “What we know now is that it looks like wastewater actually gives you about seven days’ notice – the level of COVID in wastewater goes up seven days before a significant increase in cases gets reported.”
The article states that Maas can get results from samples within one day, which theoretically would help the school determine where an outbreak is going to occur.
What happens when a student gets COVID-19?
When a student tests positive or is diagnosed with COVID-19, they will receive a call from SHaW and be asked if they can quarantine at home, according to UConn’s reopening website.
If they cannot quarantine at home, they will be placed into an on-campus isolation space, which are located in Mansfield Apartments or Husky Village. Those around them who have come in contact with them are then isolated and tested as well.
“Individuals in self-isolation must not have face-to-face interaction with others until they recover,” the reopening website says. “SHaW will provide daily telemedicine visits for Storrs-based students in isolation.”
The school will also then begin contact tracing by reaching out to members of the students “family unit” – which is the other members of their dorm or suite – and anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes with the person at close range.
People who are identified as a “close contact” will then be quarantined for 14 days, dating to their last contact with the person who tested positive.