After two weeks of online classes, residential students at the University of Connecticut will finally be able to move back on campus Jan. 28-30 with in-person classes beginning on Jan. 31. With the spike in COVID-19 cases across the country due to the infectious nature of the omicron variant, it is critical that everyone is extremely cautious during this time.
Due to the circumstances, UConn will be opening at the red designation, rather than orange as was the case last semester. According to the UConn COVID Dashboard, this means that masking will be required indoors and outdoors, events and gatherings will be limited and social distancing will be required. However, given that the last time the university was in the red designation there was reduced capacity overall, it is difficult to conceptualize exactly what this will look like.
In terms of physical distancing, during the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, classes were held in large rooms with students sitting far apart from one another; dining halls were set up with limited seating and stickers where students could stand six feet apart from one another while waiting to get food; and, given the reduced number of students, there were not as many students in outdoor spaces at all. Will this be the case for this upcoming semester, and, if so, how will this be practical given that the number of students who will be on campus is much higher than the last academic year? How will social distancing be enforced when students walk to classes, especially with areas such as Fairfield Way being prone to a high-volume traffic between classes?
Social distancing is especially important in terms of dining halls as mask-wearing is certainly not possible while eating. In a recent email, UConn Dean of Students Eleanor JB Daugherty outlined certain dining procedures, including that students without accommodations will be able to get take-out from Buckley Dining Hall. Dining hall staff will also be monitoring capacities and will offer alternatives when appropriate. What will these alternatives look like? Will dining halls have a limited capacity, like last year, in order to accommodate for social distancing?
“It is concerning that, currently, the existance of such a plan has not been made known to students.”
Information regarding the red designation also indicates that there will be increased surveillance testing as well. Last year, the Field House was open daily for students to get tested regardless of whether or not they had an appointment or had been selected for random testing. However, during the fall 2021 semester, it was more difficult for students to get tested. Will students be asked to get tested more frequently in order to monitor the spread of COVID-19 on campus?
In addition, given how rapidly cases have been rising, is the UConn administration prepared to quarantine, isolate and — worst-case scenario — send students home if necessary? It is concerning that, currently, the existence of such a plan has not been made known to students.
UConn’s red designation, given the increase in the residential student population compared to last year, brings up several questions, especially regarding the plausibility of social distancing and testing procedures. We at The Daily Campus understand that these are major decisions and encourage students to remain patient with the administration. However, we also would like clarity on the situation as well and expect the UConn administration to be transparent when making such important decisions.