As we enter our seventh month of COVID-19, the United States has failed to contain the pandemic. In response, many colleges have moved instruction entirely online and did not offer housing. Many more began with in-person classes and housing only to move online eventually, given the threat posed to students, faculty and staff by the virus.
Our situation is fairly clear — the University of Connecticut suffers from a historic budget deficit of $50 million. Despite the present and future harm COVID-19 causes to community members, beginning with or reverting to fully online instruction constitutes a massive loss of revenue. So how well is the administration balancing revenue and life? How do our testing procedures conform to this balance?
As far as mandatory testing goes, the administration’s official plans detail that all university employees who could potentially be exposed or expose others to the virus and all residential students were tested once upon arrival and asked to quarantine for a two-week period before school began. Commuter students were asked to quarantine and submit a negative test result taken sometime after Aug. 14. Symptomatic students also have on-demand access to testing.
The town of Mansfield and the administration is offering voluntary testing to non-symptomatic students on and off campus specific times throughout this week, but it’s unclear what the availability and timeline of this testing will be in the future. Otherwise, the administration says that it will use strategies like pooled testing, contract tracing and perhaps other testing “randomly.” Given events like the medical quarantine of Garrigus dorms following an outbreak there, we can infer that the administration has the capability to test many students when it deems necessary and that these will continue on some basis, but it’s very difficult to make more assumptions about the extent of future testing.
UConn’s procedure leaves much to be desired. The frequency, volume and elective nature of current testing raises great questions about the validity of our data on COVID-19. On top of this, the repeated breaking of social distancing guidelines on and off campus have, to a certain extent, definitely invalidated testing data and continue to do so. Administrative responses have ranged from polite reminders to obey guidelines to expelling them from campus housing. Either way, there continue to be large, close contact gatherings without masks. This is an unstable status-quo.
The main problem with UConn’s COVID-19 policy at the moment, aside from many lives being risked, is a lack of transparency and communication. The administration decides when additional testing is required and when we need to know about it. We don’t truly understand the extent of COVID-19 on campus and we don’t truly know how long the semester will continue in-person or if we are safe.