There has been an increase in COVID-19 cases across campus. For the week ending on Dec. 17, 93 out of 941 tests came back positive, up from last week ending on Dec. 10, where 42 out of 1,302 tests came back positive, though the results for the Dec. 10 week are no longer available on the university’s COVID-19 Testing Dashboard. Before the dashboard was updated on Dec. 17, three emails were sent to the Fairfield community in preparation for the increased numbers. It is important to note that students who participated in testing at the Recreation Complex on Friday, Dec. 17 have not yet received their results back.

Provost Christine Siegal sent an email to the faculty in the afternoon of Dec. 16. Students were then notified in the evening of Dec. 16 in emails sent by President Mark Nemec, Ph.D., as well as Vice President for Student Life Karen Donoghue. 

“Today’s COVID-19 data coming from our weekly testing program and the Student Health Center demonstrate an uptick in the number of new cases among the members of our on-campus population” Siegal said. 

Siegal added that “The noted rise in cases is not cause for alarm, but is worthy of our attention especially given that we are at the end of the semester and the holidays are approaching.”

She continued that she understands if certain exams need to be held in person, but if finals can be “appropriately administered via on-line or alternate formats, I encourage you to make this change beginning with those exams scheduled.”

She continues that this decision needs to be made and reported to the Provost’s office and students by Dec. 17 at noon. 

“Beginning Saturday, students who have no in-person final assessments will be asked to vacate the campus” Siegal added. 

In his email to the Fairfield University community, Nemec announced the University’s plans to implement mitigation strategies for the remaining days of the semester.

“As we have since the beginning of the Covid-19 global pandemic, we continue to closely monitor data from our testing program, combined with that of the surrounding community.” Nemec said, continuing, “Since we are in the last few days of the semester, and in order to ensure our community’s ability to have a healthy and safe holiday break with family and friends, we have made the decision to implement a number of mitigating strategies to respond to the recent spike in cases both on campus and in the community.”

Nemec included the same statement that Siegal did in her email, noting that though the recent rise is “not cause for alarm, it is worthy of our attention to ensure that all students are able to complete final course requirements and to get home safely.”

The President also adds that all non-essential meetings and functions on campus will be canceled or postponed, and that all employees who are able to, should work remotely. 

“We take these steps out of an abundance of caution. We have been successful to date, as a University, in navigating these complex waters, and by making this adjustment at this time we will be able to better serve the health and welfare of both our students and the entire Fairfield community,” he stated, continuing that the University will continue to carefully monitor the public health guidance, as well as state and local guidelines, and expect to return to in-person for the spring semester.

Mitigation strategies, according to Donoghue’s email, will be put in place starting at 5:00 p.m on Friday, Dec. 17. Students who utilize on-campus housing must leave campus no later than 24-hours after their last in-person final. 

Any student planning to stay on campus past Saturday, Dec. 18 must fill out a form no later than Sat. Dec. 18 by 9:00 a.m. to notify the school of their extended stay.

Donoghue also adds that the Daniel and Grace Tully Dining Commons will be at reduced seating capacity, with overflow seating available in the Oak Room until Dec. 20. By Dec. 20, all food will be “grab and go.” Further, the Recreational Complex will be closed, and the Dimenna-Nyselius library will be at reduced capacity.

Junior Alyssa O’Keefe stated that “My professor told us that the University communicated about moving finals online, and I am really glad they are taking this precaution because of the large increases in cases. I just want to be able to go home and know I can celebrate Christmas with my family.”

Senior Olivia Burke commented in The Mirror article regarding increased COVID-19 cases in the Dec. 8 issue and reiterated that she believes cases have increased even further after several people she knows have received emails from Student Health stating they were contact traced. 

Burke adds, “I think SantaCon could have contributed to this, it was a huge gathering where most people were not wearing masks.” 

SantaCon was a non-University-sponsored event held on Sat. Dec. 11 at Fairfield Beach where students dressed in Christmas-related costumes and attended parties at Lantern Point.

Junior Katrina Burmeister added that she also believes SantaCon contributed to the spike. 

“I definitely think SantaCon has a lot to do with the high numbers, I just didn’t expect the results to happen that fast. I am still waiting to hear back from one of my professors if they are going to move the final online.”

Sophomore Brenna Kennedy was not pleased that these emails were sent out before updated results were posted to the Campus Testing and Reporting dashboard. “I think it’s unfair that the school sent out emails talking about how most professors will need to move their finals online because of [a] rise in Covid cases but are waiting to actually tell us the number of Covid cases on campus. I feel like this is getting students more stressed and feel a panic to leave when technically professors still have the choice to hold in-person exams,” she said. 

Sophomore Nick Calabrese added, “I think the mitigation strategies that were implemented are appropriate measures to try and reduce the spread of Covid on campus right now. I think I am more frustrated with the lack of clarity regarding final exams.”

On Dec. 8, The Mirror reported that COVID-19 cases appeared to be increasing across campus causing some students and faculty to be concerned about upcoming finals. A faculty member forwarded an email to The Mirror after it was sent to the faculty on Dec. 9 by Richard Greenwald Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“There have been several concerns raised around the end of the term and this week’s Mirror had an article that raised speculation about the final exam period moving to a virtual format due to an uptick in covid cases over the past week and a half,” Greenwald said in last week’s email, continuing that faculty should inform their students that final exams will continue to be in-person and all students are expected to be present. 

 Greenwald added, “Please inform your students that final exams will be in-person, and students are expected to be present for these exams.” He continued, “Also, please know you will see an increased presence of Public Safety Officers in the various academic buildings, specifically to assist with the enforcement of our mask policy.”

The Mirror will continue to update on this ongoing situation.

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