June 17, 2020: Public Health Update

From: Tom McLarney, MD

Date: June 17, 2020

Subject: Public Health Update

To the Wesleyan Community,

I trust your summer is off to a good start. I’m happy to report that currently the coronavirus in Connecticut appears to be slowing down with fewer hospitalizations and deaths.  Much of this is due to the strong efforts of many residents in adhering to social distancing, using face covers, and largely staying home. We are heading in the right direction but in no way should we let our guard down. If we become lax in our efforts, we can very well experience a resurgence or ‘’second wave” of the virus.

A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a model to predict the probability of a resurgence of Covid-19 in various areas of the country by considering the relationship of the timing of reopening relative to the activity of the virus at that time. Based on their model, Connecticut is unlikely to have a large resurgence. I hope that this projection is accurate, but I will not retire my face mask yet!

The positive public health trajectory for Connecticut was one important factor that went into the decision announced this week by President Roth that we are hoping to welcome most students, faculty and staff back to campus in the fall, with classes beginning August 31. I am working with a dedicated team of administrators from across the University to develop plans for reactivating campus, and we will strive to make the environment as safe and healthy as possible. More detailed information will be shared with everyone in July.

Speaking generally, we will be following the strategies of social distancing, face cover usage, careful handwashing, disinfecting surfaces, and avoiding large groups—the very efforts that are credited for the decrease in cases seen in Connecticut thus far. We realize, of course, that campus life will not look the same, but becoming lax with these measures is sure to put people at risk and a surge in Covid-19 cases may necessitate closing campus.

Over the next few weeks, we will be deciding our course with arrival testing and quarantine to ensure maximum safety for our campus community. The science is evolving and we are learning more every day by consulting with our peers at other colleges and universities and staying up to speed with recommendations from the state Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As we prepare to welcome new and returning students and some faculty and staff who have been working remotely, it is also important to talk about what medical conditions may put students, faculty, and staff at greater risk for Covid-19 complications. These include being 65 years of age or older, or having cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancer (especially blood borne cancers, lung, and metastatic disease), inherited or acquired immunodeficiency diseases or medications that decrease the function of one’s immune system, and chronic liver, kidney, and lung diseases. The latter is mostly referring to emphysema and other less common lung conditions. The experts feel that well-controlled asthma is probably a minor risk factor at worst.  Of note, both smoking and vaping are felt to be risk factors. (More motivation to stop!)

Of course, before the start of the next academic year, we still have the summer ahead of us. I urge everyone stay on top of the current public health conditions, wherever you are in the world, as you make decisions about your day-to-day activities. The CDC’s website offers good data on the local public health context around the U.S. Here in Connecticut, the second phase of reopening begins today, and the state offers guidelines by sector on its website.

Wishing everyone good health, safety, and some rest over the summer.  There is no doubt that the challenges we are all experiencing are affecting our physical and emotional well-being—in many cases more than we might suspect.  My advice is to be kind to yourselves and anyone with whom you come in contact.  Recognize and validate your stress and loss, but try to celebrate the good you experience in your day-to-day living.  Gratitude is both powerful and uplifting.

Tom McLarney, MD