There is no word on if Biden stopped by the UConn Dairy Bar for his beloved chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. But if the president wanted some ice cream from one of our campus’ eight dining halls, he’d have been out of luck — student residents are currently prohibited from using their Flex Passes to swipe any non-UConn students into dining halls.
This no-guest policy in dining halls is just one of the restrictions under UConn’s “COVID Campus Residential Code.” Updated in accordance with CDC and Mansfield, Connecticut guidelines back in August, the code establishes the measures currently in effect to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus. In the currently-in-effect “Orange” zone of its four-color system, face masks are recommended outdoors and required in all university buildings.
In moving toward a more normal future, I understand that UConn’s hands are tied. The town of Mansfield has enforced an indoor mask mandate since Aug. 14, which limits any action that can be taken in the encircled village of Storrs. However, an easing of the Mansfield mandate is actually quite feasible.
Just last week, the towns of Danbury, Glastonbury and Windsor — all more populous than Mansfield — lifted their mask mandates. According to CDC data, the average number of confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks* was 34, 21 and 26 in these three towns, respectively. By comparison, Mansfield reported just five new cases during that time.
Although expected because of Connecticut’s high vaccination rate, these numbers are relatively impressive compared to similar-sized towns across the country. And just like the rest of their state, UConn students have proven quite capable of handling the pandemic.
A cursory glance at the UConn COVID-19 Dashboard shows that 98% of the 10,000+ Storrs Campus residents have been fully vaccinated, with 43 residents still waiting on their second shot as of Tuesday, Oct. 19. As of that same date, the number of active — not new — COVID-19 cases is… drum roll please… a whopping five! Yes, five cases in a community of more than 10,000 people. This 0.0005%, or 1/20 of 1%, positivity rate sounds more like part of Bernie Sanders’ wealth tax plan than an imminent threat to public health.
In fact, the number of simultaneous confirmed cases at UConn has not exceeded single digits all semester. Despite what mask mandates may lead one to believe, social distancing and vaccines are actually the independent variables in reducing COVID-19 cases. With last spring’s similar (if not stricter) mask restrictions in place, cases remained well into the dozens all semester, even as April brought warmth and less congregation of then-unvaccinated people indoors.
Furthermore, UConn and the town of Mansfield must realize that delaying reopening into the winter season will dismantle much of the progress we have made as a community. As I alluded to earlier, colder weather brings more indoor congregation and consequently more COVID-19 transmission — social distancing is thus made much more difficult.
If UConn’s restrictions exist because the powers that be believe a surge in cases is inevitable, why not move from Code Orange to “Yellow” while students are still spending some time outside?
This is the same logic employed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he reopened his country back in July, even as Delta variant cases were on the rise. The UK’s vaccination rate at the time was comparable to Connecticut’s currently (and much lower than UConn’s), and cases decreased steadily for a month following Johnson’s lifting of restrictions.
As one can deduce from Johnson’s actions, the longer UConn remains content to accompany Mansfield in its passive, unsustainable approach to public health, the worse this upcoming flu season is going to be.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been fighting a terrible sinus infection for more than two weeks now, and I’m certain that I’m not the only student whose immune system has been compromised since mask mandates first went into effect 19 months ago. Another winter of forced masking will only lead to many more, worse respiratory illness outbreaks on campus when COVID-19 is all said and done.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it is simply wrong to continue to subject students who have complied at every turn — and endured a compromised educational experience for nearly two years — to continue making sacrifices for a healthy and highly vaccinated community. The Classes of 2020 and 2021 were subjected to strict restrictions in their prime years of college, and this year’s seniors could graduate having not lived a desirable college lifestyle since they were sophomores.
If UConn is willing to fill its residence halls to full capacity and even host the President of the United States on campus, then moving to Code Yellow immediately is the least it can do to fulfill its obligation as a top-tier public university.