Brendan W. Clark ’21
The Tripod examined Trinity’s partnership with Hartford HealthCare as part of the Tripod’s ongoing investigations into the College’s management and mitigation efforts of the coronavirus pandemic. This investigation follows a recent outbreak at Trinity that infected more than sixty students and prompted the suspension of in-person classes for much of October.
The Tripod spoke with Senior Director of Infectious Disease Prevention Keith Grant about the partnership and Hartford HealthCare’s involvement with Trinity’s testing and isolation program. Grant indicated that the partnership “started long before COVID” and noted that Hartford HealthCare became involved when the College closed in the spring. The original partnership involved “an assessment from an infrastructure perspective and considered the institution’s testing, quarantine, and isolation protocols,” he continued.
However, Grant noted that he was not aware of Trinity’s decision in early October—in the midst of the significant outbreak on-campus—to place infected and non-infected students on the same floors in the Stowe and Clemens dormitories. Grant added that that decision was “probably not Plan A and more like Plan B or C for Trinity.”
The “best case scenario,” Grant added, would be to “have anyone infected in a completely separate area. Not just in a separate room, but in a separate dormitory.” From a public health perspective, Grant noted that that scenario becomes “increasingly more challenging,” adding that it is “very difficult to control viral spread when students are isolated only in a room.” The annexing of Stowe and Clemens by the College for isolation had previously drawn concern and ire from residents.
That, Grant continued, was “likely a decision that Martha [Burke O’Brien] made in consultation with her team.” O’Brien is the Director of the Trinity Health Center and a registered nurse.
In an email to the community earlier this month, Dean of Campus Life and Vice President for Student Affairs Joe DiChristina indicated that the College’s protocols had been developed “in close collaboration with the Health Center and our partnership with Hartford HealthCare.” Chief of Staff to the President Jason Rojas previously told the Tripod that the College works “continuously with Hartford Healthcare to assess and inform our practices.”
The other members of the College’s team at Hartford HealthCare include Executive Director of the Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network Eric Smullen and Dr. Ulysses Shawdee Wu, an infectious disease specialist.
It was not immediately clear if Smullen and Wu had been consulted about the College’s overflow housing plans in early October, though Grant noted that the “team works closely and in collaboration” to support Trinity.
Trinity has previously declined to disclose the members of its advisory team at Hartford HealthCare, citing privacy and the fact that the team members are not college employees. Rojas reaffirmed that decision Tuesday, indicating that “will not disclose the identity of individuals who are not employees of the college.”
As for alternatives to locating students on the same floor, Grant added that he “didn’t know if that was an option for Trinity” to have additional, separate dormitories and expressed that it would have been difficult to relocate students to off-campus properties as a result of “liability and logistical concerns.”
Grant characterized the College’s testing protocols as “robust,” though acknowledged that they have seen “some non-compliance with policies.” Grant cited that “we have seen a few parties and get togethers that probably shouldn’t have happened.”
Still, Grant did note that Trinity is “among the most successful of the programs that Hartford HealthCare works with” and added that the “level of compliance is generally high.” Grant also stressed that students “are not deviants” and that much of “the blame here should not be put upon students.” We are “not dealing with a precise science,” he noted, and added that Hartford HealthCare is committed to doing what it can to assist students with having a safe on-campus experience.
Rojas noted that the team at Hartford HealthCare and the College’s affiliates at Chartwells and ABM “have responded outside of traditional working hours and over weekends and our ability to recover from the increase in cases we experienced this semester is a testament to our collective efforts.”