Kendall Dorsey ’25
Connecticut College (Conn), a fellow school in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), experienced a shocking 170 COVID cases over the course of one week. While these numbers would have been alarming during the last school year, it is compounded by the fact that nearly all of the affected students were vaccinated. Like most other US schools, Conn required that students be vaccinated before beginning the fall semester, and achieved a reported 97.5% vaccination rate. The administration continued to require masks indoors and tested students on a biweekly basis, which the school credits with identifying the surge in cases relatively early on.
Conn’s diligent tracking of COVID cases revealed an exponential growth in case numbers during the school’s third week in session. School officials attributed the spread of the cases largely to social gatherings on- and off-campus, specifically in bars, cars, and dorm rooms. The school halted in-person classes and rolled out stricter regulations surrounding student gatherings, including closure of most campus facilities and limiting student travel between dorms.
The college’s rising COVID numbers quickly gained the attention of local news outlets, and the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) was quoted in many of the articles written about the outbreak. The DPH attributed the rapid spread in case numbers to lack of proper masking rather than an issue with vaccinated students. The problem, from their perspective, is transmission of the virus, not the seriousness of the cases in question. The DPH’s comments also placed the onus of COVID prevention on students to use masks and maintain some semblance of social distancing. This problem is not exclusive to Conn. Tufts University, another NESCAC school, experienced 31 cases in the past 7 days. Much like Conn, Tufts has a twice-weekly testing policy and uses a daily health screening to prevent the spread of possible cases.
Watching these developments unfold over the past week further affirmed my belief in the necessity of proper testing requirements. Conn’s testing policy helped them catch the sudden rise in cases early, so they were able to modify campus safety regulations to stop the spread of any further cases. Regular testing and tracking are vital to keeping the community safe, but students should also be able to easily get tested without waiting for their student ID number to come up in the weekly testing pattern. Students who have symptoms of COVID should be able to rest and isolate without fear of academic repercussions and receive a test if they think they may be infected. If the transmission rates at Conn and Tufts, in spite of strict testing measures, are any indication, Trinity may need to increase the frequency of its testing efforts.
Schools like Trinity, where a large proportion of students live on-campus, are fundamentally cohabitational environments. While practicing responsible masking and social distancing should be a common courtesy and could prevent many cases, students deserve to walk around their dorm, eat in the dining hall, and study in the library without fear of contamination. Testing may be a slight inconvenience to busy students, but it also gives them the peace of mind to live their lives with mindfulness of their health and the health of others.
The respective administrations of Trinity, Connecticut College, and Tufts have put a lot of effort into designing the best systems for COVID safety this fall. While acknowledging that our administration has made and likely will make missteps in this process, students have a part to play in maintaining a safe environment. There are very clear rules for student behavior on campus that we should follow, but what happens off-campus and in our dorms is very much a gray area. I encourage students to think of their actions during this time in terms of safe behavior and unsafe behavior. Each person’s threshold for their personal safety is their own to figure out, but please keep the safety of others in mind as well.