The University of Connecticut needs to test every single one of its residential students for COVID-19, and it needs to do so immediately.
At the time of writing, UConn has administered 1,945 COVID-19 tests, 18 of which have come back positive (an approximately 1% positivity rate). There are also currently six active cases of COVID-19 among residential students, or 0.05% of the student body. These statistics may seem unalarming, and that is exactly the problem.
Connecticut College recently transitioned to online learning due to an outbreak of over 50 COVID-19 cases, followed by another 34 positive tests in the following week. But, they have also administered over 14,000 tests, 1,829 in the past week alone (Sept. 20-26). For perspective, UConn has administered 1,945 tests all semester, despite having an on-campus population of 10,830 students (compared to Conn College’s 1,800). Similarly, Conn College and UConn have nearly identical on-campus vaccination rates, with 98% and 97%, respectively, further evidence that even highly vaccinated populations are still at risk of an outbreak.
Granted, this is extrapolation, right? Yes, Conn College is its own entity, 45 minutes south of Storrs, but given that we are in the same state, fighting the same virus and have 10 times the student population, is reasonable to say that this warrants concern.
So what has the university done to protect its students? Thankfully, UConn has handed out masks and PPE’s to all residential students, enforced proper mask-wearing in public spaces (such as the Rec Center and the library), ensured proper social distancing in dining halls (where masks are not required while eating) and provided clear and consistent information on testing procedures and requirements. Oh, what’s that? My sources are telling me otherwise.
UConn has done essentially nothing to enforce its COVID-19 policies. Masks have not been distributed to any students. Students are often able to wear masks below their noses or not at all in public spaces while studying or exercising with little to no warnings or punishment. Students have cited an unofficial “week of leniency” upon arrival to campus regarding mask-wearing in their residence halls. The COVID-19 Dashboard is only updated once per week and is largely reliant on students voluntarily self-reporting positive results from outside testing organizations (many of which go unreported). Clubs remain helpless due to the lack of clarity of information given when one of their members tests positive. To-go boxes are not offered at dining halls during late-night, forcing non-vaccinated or sick students to eat maskless among other students (don’t worry though, the tables are sanitized!). Bars continue to operate, while the university remains negligent to their lack of mask and distancing policies. Off-campus parties are back and overflowing with students. And, not for nothing, doesn’t it seem like everybody is sick right now?
I’m not the only one who gets paranoid when I hear someone next to me cough their lungs out, or when I overhear people say things such as “it’s just a cold” or “I’m not getting tested, I don’t have time to quarantine.” People are sick, further proof that masks alone do not provide us with immunity to the spread of disease, and until mandated surveillance testing is reinstated, students have no reason to get tested and will continue to neglect symptoms of COVID-19 in pursuit of their education or social life. This cannot continue.
The university clearly recognizes some sort of problem, as Rec Center basketball was recently halted due to mask noncompliance. But, was this implemented to protect students? Or is UConn trying to protect itself from potential legal or political scrutiny?
UConn’s lack of enforcement of its COVID-19 policies, allowing students to seemingly shrug off “common colds” and sore throats, puts us in an incredibly volatile and dangerous situation, one that should frighten us all. A growing attitude of “you can’t test positive if you don’t get tested” has infected the university (no pun intended), and without any mandatory COVID-19 testing protocols for all students, it has become increasingly clear that the university is comfortable leaving the physical health of its students up to the discretion of the virus.
Seeing as UConn does not plan to bring back weekly mandatory surveillance testing anytime soon, and that getting tested is next to impossible due to an extreme lack of consistent information, it is on us as students to do our part in protecting the pack and educating ourselves. Stay home if you’re sick, wear your mask properly and please go get tested if you or someone around you is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Information about how to schedule a COVID-19 test is available on the SHaW website, or you can call (860) 486-4700 to schedule an appointment over the phone.
Stay safe, Huskies — we will get through this together.