February 3, 2021: Public Health Update

Date: February 3, 2021

From: Tom McLarney, MD

Subject: Public Health Update

To the Wesleyan community,

Greetings. I am looking forward to students’ return to campus in just a few short days.

Wesleyan’s staff has been hard at work in the lead-up to the new semester, and we’re confident that we are prepared to have the safest possible environment on campus this spring, as we did in the fall. Yet we also know that we are beginning our new semester in a very different public health climate. It is the coldest part of the year when most activity will be indoors (which we know to carry a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission), and the positivity rate, hospitalizations, and deaths are all at much higher levels across the country compared to the fall. Perhaps most concerning to medical experts is the rapid emergence of several new variant strains of the virus, and our lack of capacity to identify them in labs.

Presently there are more questions than answers available about these new strains, but the same types of safety guidelines we’ve been hearing about for nearly a year now—masks/face coverings, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings—still apply and are more important than ever. You may have heard some experts recommend doubling down on safety precautions, such as wearing two masks instead of one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not yet endorsed this practice. However, it has long been established that cloth masks with multiple layers—such as the ones Wesleyan has distributed to its community members—are safer than single-layer cloth masks. If you’re not sure how many layers your mask has, hold it up to the light to check if you can see through it.

These measures will all continue to be key components of Wesleyan’s safety guidelines this semester, along with mandatory regular surveillance testing. This all holds true even for members of our campus community who have recovered from COVID or have received a partial or full vaccination. Though these individuals have some protection from COVID, it is not 100 percent, and it is believed they can still contract the virus and transmit it to others.

I strongly encourage all students to review the updated Student COVID Code of Conduct for spring, which they must acknowledge in WesPortal. While this document contains much important guidance that must be followed at all times, at this moment I will highlight just one: If you are ill, test positive for COVID, or have been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID, do not return to campus until you are medically cleared.

There is no question that the strict rules, isolation and quarantine, and travel restrictions are difficult. On the other hand, it will be really great to be back on campus with one another. We see a light at the end of the tunnel with the promise of vaccines, but the benefits will not be fully realized until we achieve global herd immunity, which will take time. In the meantime, we face significant challenges that were not present in the fall. It is impossible to predict how the next months will unfold, but rest assured that Wesleyan is doing everything we can to keep our campus safe.

Wishing you all safety and good health,

Tom McLarney, MD