With the return of students to Fairfield University’s campus for the Spring 2021 semester, the University’s COVID-19 regulations have been altered in order to better control the spread of the virus on campus. One of the most significant changes made was switching from only testing a random sample of the campus community for surveillance testing to now requiring weekly surveillance testing of all Fairfield students, faculty and staff on campus.
Before the start of the spring semester, Fairfield conducted repopulation testing consisting of at-home COVID-19 tests supplied by Quest Diagnostics and then two more tests once students moved back on campus. This process stretched from Jan. 21 to Feb. 13, 2021. A negative result from the at-home test was required for students to move back to campus. Once on campus, students were tested twice more during the study-in-place period which came to an end on Feb. 10.
During this repopulation testing process, about 13,000 tests were conducted with an overall infection rate of one percent, according to Fairfield University’s COVID-19 Daily Dashboard.
With the repopulation phase of testing complete, the University switched to their required weekly surveillance testing process, with testing appointments available on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. The first week of the weekly surveillance testing has come to an end, and Fairfield is currently sitting at COVID-19 Status Level: Green, which means campus has a very low level of risk for COVID-19 infection.
Many students on campus are glad that the University put into effect this new weekly COVID-19 testing requirement.
“[The weekly COVID-19 testing] makes me feel more safe, and I feel like our school is doing so much better this semester with the number of COVID cases, compared to last semester, which is super comforting. I think getting tested weekly will help prevent a big outbreak,” said Caitlyn Hurley ‘21.
Cooper Stearns ‘22 agrees with Hurley about this semester being better than the last, saying, “I’m happy that they’re testing every student weekly and giving us options for which days we can go. It’s been a lot easier than last semester.”
Reflecting back on last semester, Erin Breitenbach ‘24 said, “Last semester, the cases increased a lot, which created more restrictions for the students. I am hopeful that this new system will be successful to keep the campus safer.”
Senior Kathryn Kalaigian had an experience last semester with the random testing that was different than most students.
“I was actually never chosen for the randomized testing last semester and was given a hard time when I tried to schedule an appointment myself, so it was pretty frustrating,” said Kalaigian. Despite her experience, she continued to say, “I feel so much safer and more reassured knowing that my peers and I can get tested weekly now.”
A similar random population testing experience was had by Emma Lussier ‘22 who was only chosen once last semester to be tested.
“For a lot of the semester I was anxious that I could be asymptomatic and spreading COVID-19 to my friends and classmates. Now that we are tested weekly, I feel a lot more safe going to class and seeing a few close friends since my COVID-19 test results are so recent,” said Lussier.
Junior Ella Girling is also glad about the new weekly COVID testing requirements, and she agrees with Lussier about feeling more safe knowing she isn’t personally infected with the virus.
“I like the weekly testing because it eliminates the fear of not knowing if you have COVID or not,” Girling said. She is also feeling hopeful about the semester and what is to come in the next months. “I am so excited to be back at school. I feel as though this semester is going so much better than last semester because we are feeling somewhat of a sense of normal again, and hope with the vaccine.”
There are 8 total active positive cases as of Feb. 21, only one of which is on campus. Two positive cases are from faculty and staff members, five are from students not on campus and one is a residual positive case from the repopulation testing who have not been cleared yet. A total of 14 people who have tested positive have been cleared so far.
Since Feb. 14, of 959 tests administered to faculty and staff, only two have come back positive, and of 4,089 tests administered to students, only six have come back positive.
There is one student currently in isolation on campus as of Feb. 21, with 4 individuals under surveillance in hotels and 39 people under surveillance at home or in another off-campus location. There are still 127 rooms on campus and 43 hotel rooms available for isolation.
Overall, Fairfield County is seeing a decrease in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, as reported on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID Data Tracker. The seven day average spanning from Feb. 14 to Feb. 21 has totaled 1,670 positive cases which is a negative 20.74 percent decrease from previous data. The deaths in the past seven days have totaled 41, which is a 5.13 percent increase. The positivity rate currently stands at 3.67 percent which is actually a negative 1.46 percent decrease in the positivity trend.
In relation to this data of the surrounding area of Fairfield County, Fairfield University is doing well with keeping the case numbers down on campus.
Students are overall very happy to be back on campus and are looking forward to the feelings of normalcy that have come from the increase in testing.
“Even though COVID is still very relevant, it is great to be back at Fairfield and have at least some in-person opportunities,” said Breitenbach.
Nicholas DiStefano ‘24 is excited to be back at school and is ready for things to get back to normal at Fairfield.
“If we have to do testing every week so that we can get in-person classes and be at Fairfield University, I’m happy to do it. The test only takes five minutes, while the memories we make at Fairfield will last a lifetime,” shared DiStefano.
As stated on Fairfield University’s COVID-19 Daily Dashboard on their website, “To date, Fairfield University’s campus reopening plan has been largely successful as we have worked with State of Connecticut and Town of Fairfield Health Department officials to create and execute an effective plan to identify, contain, and limit the extent of COVID-19 infections.”
Fairfield remains hopeful that with the new testing regulations, as well as the continued enforcement of mask-wearing and social distancing, the case numbers will stay down this semester.
The University’s COVID-19 Dashboard will be updated daily Monday through Friday, as more results are released.