HARTFORD, CT – As another unusual semester winds down and vaccines are being introduced into college communities across Connecticut, schools are beginning to prepare for a sense of normalcy for fall terms.
As of Monday, 50% of adults between 18 and 24 in Connecticut had received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Gov. Ned Lamont’s office.
“I feel very confident for this summer, I think there’s a certain seasonality to it as long as people continue to get vaccinated,” Lamont said at a news conference last week. “If I have some slight concerns it’s more what happens in the fall where seasonality flu can pick up a little bit and (there’s) a little more time for Indian and Brazil variants to percolate.”
Despite some fear, students across the state are eager to return in the fall and experience a taste of pre-pandemic college life.
“I definitely did not picture college to be like this,” said Morgan DeHaven, a junior from Sacred Heart University. “Not having a full normal year of college yet has been really weird and almost feels like we’ve been robbed of our experience so far.”
Many colleges around the state are transmitting optimism and lessening some restrictions for instruction in the fall — despite waiting to release complete details of how the semester will officially be designed.
Although the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities are not requiring students, faculty members or staff to receive a vaccination before arriving, some private schools already have put vaccination requirements in place for students returning to campus in the fall.
Yale University and Wesleyan University will not allow unvaccinated students to attend the semester. Both institutions plan on a fully operational semester with fewer restrictions from the previous year.
“We are looking forward to seeing our campus return to its full vibrancy,” said Rick Culliton, dean of students and chair of the Pandemic Planning Committee at Wesleyan. “As we return to a ‘normal’ semester, Wesleyan will continue to consider State and CDC recommendations for summer and fall operations.”
Yale will now allow university-sponsored travel for those that are fully vaccinated, return to pre-COVID cleaning procedures and anticipate modification to rules for mask wearing, social distancing and gatherings.
Wesleyan is letting students have small gatherings, visitors outdoors on campus with masks and resuming university-funded travel. The university will not change mask and face-covering policies on campus.
However, other institutions such as Quinnipiac University, University of New Haven, Sacred Heart and University of Hartford have lifted restrictions without mandating the vaccine for community members.
Some individuals feel that vaccination mandates in schools should not be up for debate.
Marya Baker, a mother of a student from Quinnipiac, said she would feel more comfortable with lifted restrictions on campus if the vaccine was required.
“They require other vaccines before a student attends under normal circumstances, so I’m not sure why, other than being afraid of dropping enrolling, they wouldn’t ask for a COVID-19 vaccine,” Baker said. “Maybe once the vaccine goes out of the emergency approval stage, they will ask for all students to be vaccinated.”
Quinnipiac expects in-classroom instruction with some additional remote learning with approved student appeals and it will continue mask wearing and social distancing policies. The school plans to allow vaccinated students to socialize with lessened restrictions, change in residence hall policies, increased dining hall capacity and less weekly testing among students.
However, Quinnipiac has significantly altered its summer session policies. It is allowing vaccinated students to not wear masks outdoors or in small gatherings with other vaccinated individuals, as well as not attend weekly testing or be placed in quarantine housing if asymptomatic. Visitors can also come onto campus during daytime hours.
The university will reassess the outcome of its summer policies when deciding upon the structure of the fall semester.
On the other hand, if 85% of UNH’s community receives COVID-19 vaccination before July 1, the school intends to reduce social distancing, offering most classes in person, operating dining halls at full capacity and returning housing to pre-pandemic visitor policies and occupancy rates.
However, the school still mandates face coverings, daily symptom checks, quarantine and isolation policies, as well as following the pre-arrival and weekly testing schedule.
Sacred Heart is getting rid of its “SHU Flex” model of students attending classes online in lieu of in-person instruction. The university plans for a complete in-person year, both indoor and outdoor, and will release more specific information during the summer.
Hartford plans to return to traditional in-person instruction and will likely continue to follow mask wearing and social distancing policies. The school is planning on easing some restrictions to residential life, athletics, fine arts, research and other extricurricular and co-curricular activities depending upon student vaccination rates.
Without an official plan in hand, many students are worried that they are going to experience another semester of strict COVID-19 policies if their campus communities do not meet specific requirements.
“The pandemic has drastically changed every college student across the state and going into my senior year at UNH, I personally believe it is time for change,” Jonathan Mercugliano said, a senior from the University of New Haven. “It concerns me that my university may not lift restrictions if we don’t reach this level of immunity.”
Other students from different colleges are also ready for campus changes.
“As someone who has health anxiety issues and is immunocompromised, I lived in constant fear that I would get COVID-19,” said Meaghan Johnson, a sophomore from Quinnipiac. ”These lifted restrictions can help ease some of the issues that I was struggling with and promotes a sense of normalcy, which is something we are all craving.”