Fairfield University has entered COVID-19 Status Level: Orange, or moderate risk as of Oct. 9. All students living at the beach will be restricted from campus through Oct. 23. All Fairfield athletics, which include NCAA sports, club sports and intramurals, will be suspended for the next two weeks, including all practices.
Both President Mark Nemec and Karen Donoghue, vice president of student life, emailed students late Friday morning to update them on the breaking COVID mitigation.
“The decision was not made lightly,” said Donoghue. “But it is the situation we do believe will allow us to resume normal activities within the next two weeks.”
“Over the last 48 hours, we have seen a significant increase in positive COVID-19 cases within specific populations of the Fairfield University student community,” said Nemec in his email. “While overall campus rates remain low, aggressive mitigation strategies are warranted to manage the outbreak in these identified populations, and to limit further infection.”
According to Donoghue, the infection rate at the beach is about 8 percent, which is significantly higher than the national average of 3.9 percent according to the CDC.
Going forward, all beach residents will be restricted to online classes and will only be allowed to interact with their housemates. Mingling between residences is prohibited, and students may only leave their residences for “essential reasons,” according to the email sent by Donoghue. Beach residents are permitted to return home for the two weeks if they choose but must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test upon their arrival back to campus.
All varsity, club and intramural sports have been put on hold for two weeks as well. Athletic facilities, including the Walsh Athletic Center and the RecPlex, will be closed.
Paul Schlickmann, the director of athletics, stressed the gravity of the situation.
“As part of an aggressive strategy implemented by the University’s COVID-19 task force to mitigate further infections, Fairfield Athletics has paused all athletics activity for the next 14 days,” he said. “During this time period, and as we proceed with the completion of the semester, it is imperative that all of our student-athletes be attentive, compliant and vigilant in all aspects of their campus life in order to protect the health and safety of each other and of our entire University community.”
Schlickmann plans to hold all athletes accountable for their actions if any of the COVID guidelines are broken.
The Department of Athletics declined to disclose the number of athletes who have tested positive, citing HIPAA regulations.
The University plans to increase testing significantly for disproportionately affected populations. According to a webinar hosted on Oct. 9, randomized testing will also see an increase in the coming weeks.
Students at the beach, much like the quarantined residents in Claver hall, may expect “two tests within the next two weeks thanks to University oversight,” said Donoghue in the webinar.
Donoghue stressed that the University has a zero-tolerance policy towards anyone not following the COVID-19 guidelines and mitigations. “Failure to comply with all mandates issued by the University and public health authorities ultimately may result in permanent separation (i.e., expulsion) from the University,” she said.
New security measures have been put in place to ensure that the COVID-19 directives are being followed by beach residents.
Dean of students Will Johnson confirmed in the Oct. 9 webinar that, “Our department of public safety will be doing hourly drive-bys, especially on Fairfield Beach Road, to ensure that students are following the directives.”
Alison Berger, the associate dean of students, confirmed Johnson’s statement, emphasizing that, “Fairfield police will be in the area and neighbors may submit reports as well.”
Johnson also stressed that University officials will be making frequent rounds through the beach to make sure students are adhering to the directives.
In an email to students on Oct. 9, Johnson confirmed that “ this directive does not apply to commuter students living at the primary home of their family,” so only beach residents will need to comply with the new regulations.
Accusations have been made by students that some students who are not following the COVID guidelines do not seem to be facing any consequences. One anonymous student wrote, “So far, [the students] have not faced any consequences from the school and it is frustrating to those of us who are following the rules.”
However, Johnson guaranteed that these students are being handled accordingly. “With any report that comes to our office, the students are being addressed,” he said. Johnson also strongly encourages students to call out their peers for breaking the rules, stating, “If you see people that are doing what they’re not supposed to be doing, let us know.”
Nassar Eljamal ‘21, president of the Beach Resident Advocacy Group (BRAG), believes that the drastic measures put in place by Fairfield’s administration are essential to returning to normalcy on campus.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a serious matter, and the school is doing everything in their power to keep us students and the Fairfield Community safe,” he said. “The school is only doing what they have to do. Since arriving on campus, Fairfield University has done a great job pushing the faculty and students to abide by the regulations that we have all been following for the last few months now.” He describes the regulations as “just another speed bump in the road,” and is confident that the student body will be able to gradually recover.
Between Oct. 6 and 8, 61 new positive cases were found through randomized testing, one of which was a faculty or staff member, bringing the total number of semester cases to 180. Nine students are currently quarantined on campus, and seven are under surveillance by the University. However, 16 students were cleared to return to campus. In total this semester, 105 students have been cleared.
It seems that most Stags are hopeful that students will continue to be cautious in this unprecedented time.
“It is our hope that students take the messages from President Nemec and Vice President Donoghue seriously for the health, safety and academic continuity of our entire community. We are counting on them, and they are counting on each other,” said Jenn Anderson, vice president of marketing and communication.
Johnson is also hopeful that students will do the right thing. “I remain confident that our University will rise to the occasion and overcome this difficult period,” he said.
“It is in our hands now to work together, quarantine when needed, and stay healthy,” Eljamal said.