Having killed millions around the world since the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 doesn’t appear to be leaving us anytime soon. There is now a fourth wave spreading because of the hyper-transmissible delta variant, which may be twice as infectious as the original strain. Globally, cases are skyrocketing in numbers which not only threaten to infect swaths of the population but also to overwhelm our healthcare systems. Given rapid increases in cases and the increasing potential of further viral mutations, it appears we aren’t free of the pandemic quite yet.
At the University of Connecticut, this means we’ll have another year influenced by the disease to a great extent. But we can learn from our past mistakes in order to have the best experience possible in less-than-favorable circumstances.
For UConn, last year was certainly a struggle with COVID-19. While some American colleges went fully online, UConn opened to a reduced residential capacity in August: It was designed to account for social distancing in dorms, classrooms and dining halls. Unlike some other universities that did open, UConn did not enact a universal, regular and mandatory testing and isolation procedure. In general there were many unresolved questions about the efficacy of changing testing policies, and before classes even began there were dozens of cases across campus.
Weekly, for the entirety of the Fall 2020 semester, UConn’s COVID-19 dashboard saw fluctuations in case numbers among students and staff. Dorms were regularly drawn into and out of strict quarantine policies which restricted students’ ability to attend in-person classes and work alike. In November, the University did not have the spread of COVID-19 under control — their words, not ours — and put every residential dorm on campus into mandatory quarantine until the end of the residential semester. The entirety of the Stamford campus dorm was also quarantined at another point.
Even in the midst of rising case numbers and quarantines there was no publicized plan or procedure regarding a quantity of cases when UConn would send students home, as many other schools did in response to wide outbreaks and as was discussed by the administration at the beginning of the semester. There were multiple moments when large segments of the student body believed we’d be sent home at a moment’s notice. The possibility just lingered in the air to the distaste and uncertainty of the community at large, which relies upon the administration to plan upcoming years and months of our lives.
“As a community we must learn from our experiences and mistakes from the past year to pursue a post-pandemic community.”
Apart from university policy, there were countless instances of students breaking social distancing, maximum room capacity and mask guidelines in order to crowd a dorm room, house or lake. These instances were documented almost weekly and would usually precipitate a spike in cases on campus and an administrative backlash, if not specific criminal or academic charges including fines and expulsion from residential life.
As students, our ability to get vaccinated and take precautions against the spread of COVID-19 determine the quality of our college experience. Last year, an increase of COVID-19 cases to worrisome levels meant widespread quarantines, walking across campus to eat at specific dining halls, leaving campus early, taking classes while sick and generally not getting our money’s worth out of this hyper-expensive 21st century American college experience. Administrators on the other hand must prioritize transparency and community health over financial concerns.
Nobody can say exactly what the remainder of COVID-19’s lifespan will be like for UConn, the United States or the world as a whole. Yet we have a rich history to draw upon. As a community we must learn from our experiences and mistakes from the past year to pursue a post-pandemic community.