Ensuring all students have been tested for coronavirus before returning to school is one of the biggest challenges University of New Haven leaders are focused on as they prepare to reopen for the fall semester.
The matter has become more urgent because Connecticut, which has among the lowest COVID rates in the nation, has issued travel and quarantine restrictions for people coming from states with high rates of transmission.
Testing delays in those other states are complicating efforts to have all students and faculty cleared for COVID before returning, says Summer McGee, the dean of the School of Health Sciences who is overseeing the university’s reopening as its COVID-19 coordinator.
“Our goal is to preserve all the best things about being on campus and campus life, and reimagine how a university can operate under the COVID constraints,” McGee says.
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Here are some of the key steps the university is taking:
1. The great outdoors: The university is relying on tents and outdoor areas to provide safer spaces for classes and other gatherings.
2. Relying on student leaders: Administrators will enlist student government members and other student leaders to ensure their classmates follow safety precautions such as wearing face coverings, social distancing and other responsible behaviors.
“We’ve been trying to emphasize that the semester is in their hands,” McGee says. “How long we’ll be able to operate depends on their behavior and their choices.”
Connecticut has not yet allowed the reopening of indoor bars, which have been significant sources of COVID transmissions among young people in other states, McGee says.
“We’re trying to create a culture of peer education and peer influencers, instead of using top-down lectures to try tell students they can’t do this and they can’t do that,” she says.
3. Repurposing rooms: With many university staffers working remotely, large office spaces have been converted into the classrooms. Large dining halls also will serve as classroom and event space.
“We’ve used every bit of available space on campus,” McGee says,
4. Reduced capacity: Occupancy of residence halls will be reduced by 40% to 50%, though some students will live in double rooms. Density in laundry rooms, dining halls and other common areas will also be reduced.
5. Weekly testing: Per state of Connecticut regulations, 5% of the campus population will be tested at random for COVID each week. These tests should help identify students or staff who are asymptomatic.
All staff and students will be asked to monitor for symptoms each day and stay home, or in their residence hall, if they feel ill. The university is offering an app staff and students can use to conduct daily symptom checks.
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6. Online options: If students have to stay home, course materials will be recorded and provided online. Faculty also will be asked to record courses should they fall ill and have to stay home.
7. Campuswide cooperation: The key to completing the fall semester will be keeping community transmissions down. That will require strict adherence to all safety precautions by everyone one campus.
“With a high level of compliance with mask-wearing and physical distancing, combined with test, I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll be able to get through the fall semester,” she says. “We have to make sure everybody remains vigilant.”
UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.