Currently, the University of Connecticut is under the orange level of COVID-19 protocol. This requires students to wear masks indoors at all times. UConn has been at the orange level since the beginning of the semester. In an interview with The Daily Campus, Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs Eleanor JB Daugherty discussed the possible future of COVID-19 protocols, and why moving from orange level is unlikely in the near future.
Daugherty first discussed how the color-coded system this year differed from that of last year, the main difference being the basic assumptions about COVID-19 on campus going into each semester.
“For students that were with us last year, we had a color-coded system that was really responsive to the reality of illness, so the definition of the colors were different than they are this year,” Daugherty said. “We knew that we were actively fighting COVID-19 and that we knew we didn’t have a vaccine in our tool kit to help combat, so each color code in that system corresponded to how aggressive the presence of illness was at UConn. It was also strongly affected by the behavior of students.”
Daugherty said that this year, UConn assumes a basic level of health on campus and thus is able to allow more in-person events, gatherings and classes than it was able to last year.
“This year when we were reintroducing the color-based system, it was not based on the assumption that we were going to be in a case of illness, but rather in a position of relative health compared to last year. So, there is a lot more activity on-campus in these color codes that you saw last year,” Daugherty said. “The foundation of the system has shifted.”
Daugherty then went on to discuss how decisions to change COVID-19 protocols are made. She said that the topic is discussed more than weekly and is dependent on the state of COVID-19 on campus.
“The movement in the system is reflected in how strong our health is and how aggressive COVID-19 is. We look for things for what is the health of our students, I talk to the medical team twice a week, and students who were with us last year know in particular on the Storrs campus we continue to closely monitor the wastewater as well as the many thousands of COVID-19 tests that we are administering, and of course every week we update with the positives we see,” Daugherty said. “That number is wonderfully low and has stayed that way for the semester.”
She did say though that the introduction of the Delta variant on campus has made protocol more difficult as the Delta variant is much more aggressive than the original COVID-19 strand.
“We know that when we are sick, we’re sick with the Delta variant and its occurring among the vaccinated and unvaccinated students, and it’s an incredibly aggressive variant,” Daugherty said. “It is an admirable foe.”
Daugherty said that UConn has had to stay in the orange level because of the Delta variant.
“Because of the aggressiveness of that variant we have stayed in orange because we want to reaffirm those additional preventative measures that work really well, with masking being where the rubber meets the road for us as a campus. Masking inside in addition to our good health and our vaccination is what gives us the confidence to continue the activities and work that we have on campus this year as opposed to last year,” Daugherty said.
Daugherty also emphasized that the state of Delta variant on campus is not all that UConn must consider when setting health protocols. The university must also keep in mind the guidelines put forth by the town of Mansfield as well as the State of Connecticut in regard to managing the pandemic.
“We would love to get to yellow, but when we look at the aggressiveness of Delta and also the position the town of Mansfield has taken and that the state of Connecticut has taken for education, we’re kind of sticking where we are right now,” Daugherty said. “It’s a collection of things that we keep juggling to make the right decision.”
Daugherty also discussed UConn’s COVID-19 booster strategy, as many students will need a booster in the near future, saying that boosters will not be required but will be highly recommended and offered to students through Student Health and Wellness.
“So as of this moment, and the thing that I have learned with COVID-19 is that everything changes, we have not been thinking about requiring it, but we are going to really heavily promote it and you will be able to get a booster through SHAW,” Daugherty said.
Finally, Daugherty encouraged students to continue to practice healthy habits in order to keep campus as healthy as possible.
“I need to emphasize to students how responsible and conscientious they have been and what I mean by that is, we are on year two, so this isn’t just a moment of students decision making, we are in the second year of our students consistently choosing to do these things that puts everyone’s health ahead,” Daugherty said. “I know the masking is annoying, but we have a lot to be proud of.”