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    Monday, May 29, 2023

    After more than 50 students test positive for COVID-19, Connecticut College classes go remote

    New London — Connecticut College has moved its student body into cautionary quarantine, with virtual classes, no athletic practices and no indoor gatherings, after more than 50 students tested positive for the coronavirus.

    Dean of Students Victor Arcelus said in a Tuesday morning email to the campus community that symptomatic students and some of their friends got rapid tests Monday and 20 students tested positive.

    "Through contact tracing, we determined that the students who had contracted the virus had been socializing in cars, in friends' rooms or apartments, at parties or in bars without wearing a mask," he wrote.

    In an Aug. 25 update to students, Arcelus said Conn "is not permitting indoor activities off-campus where masks would not reasonably be worn (e.g. restaurants and bars)," telling students to sit outside or get takeout if they go to eat off-campus.

    The results from Monday's routine testing, which the college is conducting in partnership with the Broad Institute, came in Tuesday morning and showed that an additional 34 students tested positive, Arcelus said.

    The COVID-19 dashboard, updated at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, showed that 57 student tests and zero employee tests came back positive out of 951 tests since Monday, for a positivity rate of 5.99%. Coronavirus-positive students are in isolation housing, either on-campus or in area hotels.

    Spokesperson Tiffany Thiele said some students have reported mild COVID-19 symptoms and there have been no hospitalizations to date. There are 1,814 students enrolled this fall.

    Earlier in the summer, the college had not planned on requiring regular testing for vaccinated students, but Conn in August decided to require all students be tested twice a week, like last year. Faculty and staff are tested once weekly.

    Conn has shifted from Alert Level 1 (green) to Alert Level 3 (orange). Thiele said in an email the college is maintaining new protocols for about 7 to 10 days, has updated public health authorities and will keep the community informed of any changes.

    Students, faculty and staff are required to be vaccinated unless they have an exemption. Thiele said 98% to 99% of students are vaccinated, and the school anticipates that 95% of faculty and staff will be vaccinated by their Sept. 20 deadline.

    Conn entered the school year requiring indoor mask-wearing for students and staff but planned for fully in-person classes. Last year, classes began remotely Sept. 1 but in-person instruction didn't begin until Sept. 11. Convocation was virtual last year but in-person this year.

    What does the current alert level allow and prohibit?

    Classes were canceled Tuesday for faculty to shift their courses to a virtual format, with most classes resuming Wednesday. Thiele said Tuesday that all professors would receive their Zoom licenses by the end of the day.

    Student socializing is now limited to three students outside — socially distanced and wearing masks — and gatherings are prohibited indoors, whereas the green alert level meant no gathering limitations for vaccinated students.

    In residence halls, students may only be on their assigned floor. Visitors are restricted and common rooms are closed.

    "Students living off-campus may come to campus for testing, package/item pick-up, visit Student Health Services, or for food if they have a meal plan," Arcelus wrote. "Students should not go into the community unless it is urgent and must not have other students or visitors to their off-campus property."

    There is no student access to Shain Library, coffee shops are closed, and dining services are takeout only, though Arcelus had noted in August that food services would be grab and go for the first two and a half weeks of the semester, until Sept. 12.

    Four season-opening fall events for athletic teams have been postponed.

    The college now also has approval requirements for travel both within and beyond New London County, and students may only ride in vehicles with roommates or people who live in their apartment.

    To Doug Daniels, a recent former Conn employee who reached out to The Day on Tuesday, the announcement of the COVID-19 outbreak shows the concerns that he and other staff members expressed were legitimate. Daniels said he was deeply disappointed with the college's return-to-campus plans and resigned from his position in the communications office to protect an immunocompromised family member; his last day was Aug. 20.

    He was unhappy with staff being required to return to the office five days a week in early August, after working remotely since last March. He said he heard concerns from immunocompromised staff and colleagues with kids who are too young to be vaccinated.

    Conn responded in a statement, "The College consulted with planning committees made up of faculty, staff and students at every step of the process when developing our fall plans over the summer, including necessary adjustments to respond to the Delta variant. Regular conversations continue today with our shared governance bodies."


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