New isolation policies, booster mandate: Quinnipiac prepares for in-person semester amid omicron

Nicole McIsaac and Emily Flamme

As the spring semester approaches, Quinnipiac University positions itself as not dismissing omicron while still planning to continue activities as they were previously.

“I think we need to take it seriously,” said Dr. David Hill, senior medical advisor. “But that’s the good news — you know, we’d be in big trouble if omicron was really severe.”

Quinnipiac updated its COVID-19 policies earlier this month, stating that if a student tests positive, they will isolate between five to seven days. Hill said the university based its guidelines on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Connecticut COVID-19 positivity rate courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Hill said residential students will be given a kit containing a rapid antigen test to take on day five after testing positive, which is different from the CDC guideline of an optional test on day five of isolation.

If a student still tests positive on day five, they will continue isolation until day seven without needing a test to return to normal campus activities.

The university has reserved 168 rooms for isolation, according to Chief Experience Officer Tom Ellett. In order to prevent isolation spaces from completely filling up, the university will encourage residential students to return home to complete their isolation period.

“We don’t want to overwhelm our system, but we will be asking students to isolate at home if that’s convenient and easy for them,” Hill said. 

However, going home while positive for COVID-19 isn’t a policy that all students said they are on board with. 

“I feel once those 100 rooms are filled, then the school should be completely remote,” said Bobby Henry, a sophomore on the pre-med track. “It’s not fair to people’s families, as well as individuals, if people come to school with the illness or even if the people you live with get you sick.” 

Students who are isolating on campus can leave isolation to pick up grab-and-go meals from a designated room, Hill said. Someone will assist the student by picking it up for them if they do not feel well enough to leave their room.

Based on the trends of the current omicron surge, Hill wrote in a Jan. 20 communication to the Quinnipiac community that students most likely will not have to isolate in their dorm rooms, and the plan is only expected to be in place for the first few weeks of the semester.

“If we reach capacity in our QU isolation housing, we may need to have our students isolate in place in their residence hall room,” Hill wrote. “​​We are hopeful that we will not need to have students isolate in their rooms, but we want to be transparent that this approach might be needed.”

In addition, Quinnipiac mandated students, faculty and staff to get a COVID-19 booster by Feb. 15. The university is hosting a clinic where members of the Quinnipiac community can receive their booster dose on Jan. 31 or Feb. 1. The clinics will have Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available.

Hill said the university is currently focusing on getting everyone boosted, rather than punishing people if they don’t receive their booster shot.

“Rather than again piling up punitive measures, we’re going to try and contact them and work out a way to have them boosted,” Hill said. “Whether or not there is some consequence at some point, I’ll leave that open, but we’re not going to start out that way.” 

Henry said he agrees with the structure of the semester as long as people are “safe about it and treat others with respect.” 

“At the end of the day, forcing the vaccine is a choice and should not be a penalty,” Henry said. “It may be a pro or it may be a con, it should be up to the individual for their safety rather than a punishment or political statement.” 

As of publication, Connecticut has a 13.69% positivity rate in comparison to having 20.27% last week. Despite the decrease, Hill said the university needs to be ready for any situation. 

“We’re always thinking about what’s gonna happen these first two weeks,” Hill said. “I think these first two weeks of students returning are gonna be perhaps the most challenging.”

Jacqueline Ydrovo, a first-year public relations major, said she feels safe as a student moving back to campus for the spring term. 

“I do think starting the semester among the new variant and surge is a good idea because we have already seen the number of cases start to lower in Connecticut,” Ydrovo said. “Students will also be in a bubble or pod as the campus is somewhat confined even if students go off campus.” 

Hill said wearing a good quality mask is important for keeping transmission rates down.

“We’re going to recommend that higher level mask, whether it’s a surgical mask or KN95 or N95 masks,” Hill said. “Those are pretty available online to get.”

Professor and Chair of the History Department David Valone said he supports Quinnipiac’s policies and thinks the most important thing is masking properly.

“I think overall Quinnipiac has done a good job in reacting to the pandemic over the past two years,” Valone said. “I think getting the message out that high quality masks make a significant difference in terms of safety would be a good idea.”

With less than a week left until the majority of the Quinnipiac community returns, Hill said the university is geared for any circumstance to occur. 

“We’ve talked about this extensively, we’re ready in student health, we’re ready with our surge capacity, we have isolation spaces and now we just have to let it happen,” Hill said. “It’s kind of like pushing the button on a rocket and hoping that things don’t blow up along the way, but we’ve talked about this and we’re really ready for this to happen.”