Yale accelerates loosening of restrictions as COVID-19 alert shifts to yellow
The University previously remained at the orange alert level, which denotes moderate risk, for over a month.
Yasmine Halmane, Contributing Photographer
Yale will ease restrictions and downshift its COVID-19 alert level from orange to yellow on Feb. 7, University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler announced in a community-wide email Friday afternoon. The change comes in response to the “now favorable trajectory” of the Omicron surge that has swept the country over the last two months.
Yale has remained at the orange level since Dec. 19. A host of regulations will loosen with the shift, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd wrote in an email to students: restrictions on gatherings and visitors will begin to ease on Feb. 11, rather than Feb. 21, the campus-wide quarantine will lift on Feb. 5 rather than Feb. 7 and classes will resume in person on schedule on Feb. 7. Under the yellow COVID-19 alert level, which connotes “low to moderate risk,” students are still required to test twice weekly, wear masks indoors and obtain prior approval for in-person events and gatherings.
“We look forward to the rest of the spring semester with optimism, thanks in no small part to the community’s sustained and diligent efforts,” Spangler wrote. “As we have throughout the pandemic, we will regularly and carefully monitor public health conditions and guidance and make and communicate adjustments in our policies when indicated.”
Spangler added that the Yale community’s adherence to vaccination requirements and public health guidelines contributed to the switch. Spangler also cited “significant” improvement in infection rates and hospitalization numbers within the Yale community and across the state of Connecticut. According to the University COVID-19 dashboard, Yale saw 109 total COVID-19 cases in the seven-day period between Jan. 27 and Feb. 2, marking a decrease from early January, when cases peaked at 167 in one day. 76 percent of on-campus isolation housing is currently available.
Howard Forman, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, public health, management and economics, said that public health conditions are currently more favorable than policy-makers predicted they would be when establishing the guidelines for the spring 2022 semester.
“When the University made the moves that they made, I think the timing was right, but I think that they probably over-anticipated how bad things would be at this particular moment,” Forman told the News. “If you look at our dashboard, it’s looking better and better every day, and if you look at the city and state, you’ll see that we’re actually doing extremely well right now. It would be probably irresponsible to maintain orange when we’re back down to where we were when we were last in yellow.”
The University outlined many of the public health guidelines for the spring 2022 semester in December and early January, when, Forman said, it was difficult to predict what public health conditions would look like when in-person instruction resumed. As such, policy-makers planned for a worst case scenario, in which students returning to Yale from different areas triggered a campus-wide spike in COVID-19 cases.
Now, Forman explained, factors like local positivity rates and available capacity in isolation housing and hospitals point to public health circumstances “dramatically improving.” The state of Connecticut’s COVID-19 tracker currently reports a daily test positivity rate of 6.58 percent.
Boyd’s email cited testing and mask requirements as “largely responsible for enabling this easing of restrictions,” and urged students to continue to follow the remaining guidelines.
In January, the University announced its plan for a two-phase quarantine. During the first phase, students were expected to quarantine in their suites until they received a negative COVID-19 test, and during the second phase were instructed to limit engagement with New Haven establishments.
Per Boyd’s email, the second phase of the quarantine will end ahead of schedule, on Feb. 5 rather than Feb. 7.
“Starting tomorrow, then, if you have ended your phase-one quarantine you may resume patronizing New Haven restaurants and businesses and attending performances and athletic events,” Boyd wrote.
Classes, which have been conducted remotely since Jan. 25, are slated to begin in person on Feb. 7. Forman told the News that the return to in-person instruction should not be a cause for concern, pointing to the relatively low frequency of incidents of campus transmission.
“We have the experience of watching what happened at Harvard, Cornell and other places that have come back to school, and they’re not having a problem,” Forman said. “It’s comforting to have these other little experiments going on. Looking at Harvard’s dashboard right now, they had one little surge on January 31, but as of right now, they’re having very few cases— only one undergraduate case out of 4000 tests today.”
All students were required to receive booster shots before returning to campus.