As we wrap up the fifth week of the semester, I want to provide an update about recent trends that are giving us reason for concern. I believe the more information you have will guide you as you make critical decisions about your health and the health of our community. Through our asymptomatic testing program operating out of the Mullins Center we have recorded a cluster of thirteen new positive COVID-19 tests of students this week, with the possibility that further positives will be reported in the coming days as contact tracing continues. All the students are known to have socialized together, and a number of them attended a party together. Thankfully, they maintained a testing protocol that alerted us to their illness and allows us to monitor their health.
We continue to learn a great deal about what works, what doesn’t, and where we can improve. As I have said before, what we are doing matters. What you do matters. The work of planning for the spring semester is under way, and the next several weeks may play a significant role in shaping the decisions we make. Our goal of repopulating the campus and resuming in-person operations relies on each and every one of us doing our part. If the numbers continue to rise at the pace they did this week, our return to more normal operations may be further delayed. Testing, while extremely important, tells us whether someone is infected, but it does not protect a person from becoming infected. We can do more to adjust our behavior to reduce the spread:
- Avoid Parties and Gatherings
The cluster of positive tests this week are connected to a relatively large gathering. Social gatherings should be in groups of ten or fewer, and all in attendance should wear face coverings and maintain physical distance when possible. Like you, I yearn to be with others—but your restraint is key to our success.
- Wear Face Coverings
Masks are one of the easiest, most effective tools we have in preventing the spread of the virus. If you are with anyone who is not part of your pod (roommates, housemates, etc) you should be wearing a mask. Likewise, it is completely acceptable to remind others to wear their masks while with others.
- Get Tested
Participating in the university’s asymptomatic testing program is critical for the success of our COVID prevention planning. Getting tested twice a week will help ensure that students who may be positive are identified as quickly as possible. Remember, testing may detect the virus, but it doesn’t prevent you from contracting the virus. Log in to the Campus Health Hub to schedule your test now.
This cluster of positive test results reminds us that, despite the low numbers we have seen on campus and in the community in recent weeks, we cannot allow ourselves to be comforted into complacency. The decisions we make now—the choice to skip the party, to wear a mask—will allow us to come together sooner in the future. If you live on campus or in the local area, you can help by participating in twice-weekly testing and cooperating with contact tracers.
I want to thank the students living on campus and in the local area for their efforts in adhering to the public health guidance issued by the state, the town, and the university. It is through that cooperation with testing protocols, our asymptomatic testing program, and contact tracers that we were able to identify this cluster and take measures to reduce the spread of the virus in our community. Please keep up these proactive and responsible efforts!
Brandi Hephner LaBanc, Ed.D.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life