As part of the University of Connecticut’s COVID-19 measures, the school has gone to great lengths to make everyone aware of the color-coded system Student Affairs concocted to explain the current guidelines on campus. It includes four colors (red, orange, yellow and green) ranging from the most severe to the least severe. While this system does serve the purpose of allowing UConn to create aesthetically pleasing infographics that can be placed around campus, the honest truth is that, as it exists now, it’s very flawed. The question I want to ask today is this: Will UConn ever go to yellow?
Let’s begin by taking a look at what each designation apparently calls for, according to the UConn COVID-19 dashboard.
Red is what people on campus experienced last year, with a mask mandate both indoors and outdoors, required physical distancing, limited capacity in meeting spaces and surveillance testing. These were all extremely necessary measures for the campus in a pre-vaccine environment.
Orange, the set of guidelines that campus has been following since Dean of Students Eleanor JB Daugherty announced it on July 28, 2021, exhibits a strong de-escalation from red. Masks are still required inside, but are now only recommended outside, physical distancing is no longer required anywhere, capacity has become far less limited and surveillance testing seems to have gone by the wayside.
Unfortunately, here’s where the clearly distinguishable designations end. Yellow and green, which follow orange in that order, have an almost identical wording. The only difference is that while green does not require masks at all, yellow recommends them still indoors. Otherwise, everything else is back to a state that is basically pre-COVID-19.
According to Daugherty’s Nov. 5 “Ode to Orange” email, “the real distinguishing factor of orange is that masking remains required for all of us indoors. [UConn administrators] evaluate whether to change this designation every week.” Masking very much still is a crucial requirement to have on campus, as our case number has remained consistently in the single-digits all semester while in orange. I would argue that the indoor mask requirement should not be lifted until COVID-19 has been more permanently dealt with (while total eradication is probably not the path we’ll find ourselves going down, a more permanent solution might at least consist of some form of easily accessible treatment). I believe Daugherty’s quote is somewhat insinuating that we probably won’t get to green until some sense of permanence is reached. If this is the case, then I ask this one question: Why do we continue to have the yellow designation dangled in front of our noses?
Anyone who goes outside in Storrs and walks around for even a few minutes can find out how the community understands the word “recommended.” Under orange, where that wording is used for outside masking, it’s very common to see people walking around without masks on, or at least not fully on. It’s only logical to expect that if people react to the recommendation this way for outdoors, the same thinking will apply to indoor masking.
Due to this very vague and thin line between yellow and green, I ask the UConn admin if it would be possible to simply take a hard stance on this. There are three necessary designations, and having a useless fourth one simply to act as a dangling carrot is an insult to the intelligence of the community.
Now, I understand that UConn’s COVID-19 policy is far more complicated than what’s posted on the dashboard’s color-coded guidelines page, but that’s not the point. The point is that UConn has chosen this system to be the outward-facing method of communicating what expected behavior should be in the community, and we all deserve a little more transparency.
I fully support UConn’s choice to keep the campus in orange, and I hope that one day we can be safe enough to shift to green. This would be a real show of progress and a sign that the pandemic is mostly behind us. Unfortunately, as long as the yellow designation exists, it’s really hard to know what to strive for. Having an extra step before the end only creates more pressure for administrators to want to move forward, and the last thing we need is for that decision to be made prematurely.