Jack P. Carroll ‘24
In an email to the community Tuesday afternoon, Vice President for Student Success and Enrollment Management Joe DiChristina and Chief Financial Officer Dan Hitchell gave an update on the COVID Steering Committee’s policies for masks and indoor gatherings. They also announced that Chief of Staff Jason Rojas transitioned out of the Committee’s co-chair role.
Trinity will be maintaining the indoor mask mandate through spring break which begins on Saturday, Mar. 19. The College will then reassess and determine if the mask mandate and other policies–such as surveillance testing–can be relaxed for the remainder of the semester. “This is certainly the direction we are heading in, but our campus data must support the decision,” wrote DiChristina and Hitchell.
DiChristina informed the Tripod via email that the mask mandate will remain in place until Friday, Mar. 18. He indicated that the College will be reviewing policies on gatherings in the coming week. When asked whether students, faculty, and staff were consulted while developing this month’s COVID protocols, DiChristina stated that “Since we were keeping all policies in place, we did not have direct communication with other members of the community regarding the recent update.” He indicated that the College will be discussing future policy changes with various groups in the coming week.
The update comes at a time when mask requirements are being lifted throughout the state. The University of Connecticut (UConn) announced in an email Thursday morning that starting Friday, Mar. 4 masks will now only be “recommended” in nearly all settings on campus. In late February, Mayor of New Haven Justin Elicker and Health Director Maritza Bond indicated that starting Mar. 7 masks will no longer be required in the city’s restaurants, shops, bars, and gyms. Governor Ned Lamont’s decision to eliminate mask requirements in schools and childcare centers went into effect last week.
In February, Rojas told the Tripod that the College had no intention of lifting the mask mandate any time soon. He indicated that there is no threshold of COVID cases that would prompt the College to remove the mask mandate: “Primary considerations would be continued declining case counts, sustained isolated capacity and the severity of illness among those in our campus who test positive.” Rojas told the Tripod at the time that he had not engaged with constituent groups and employees regarding masks. He also indicated that he had not received any formal requests from staff related to the mask policy.
DiChristina and Hitchell announced that Trinity’s most recent update on small indoor gatherings will remain in place through the next week. Other changes in gathering guidance are expected to be shared with the community by Wednesday, Mar. 9. The Tripod reported in February that gatherings of up to 40 people are permitted as long as the capacity limit does not exceed 50 percent. Dining halls have been open since Feb. 13 for in-person dining at full capacity. Event attendees are required to wear masks indoors and no exceptions are made for visitors. Invited guests, speakers, and program participants are required to share negative COVID test results (PCR or antigen) administered within 24 hours of campus arrival.
Responding to questions regarding the ongoing gathering restrictions despite the decline in cases, DiChristina told the Tripod that “From our experience since August 2020, it usually takes 14-20 days for an increase in active cases to subside as we work to manage the transmission of the virus on campus.” “There has been a significant decline in active cases, and we are hopeful that it continues through spring break.”
The COVID Steering Committee recently underwent a change in leadership. Rojas transitioned out of the Committee’s co-chair role, and he will be succeeded by Hitchell. “[T]he College will occasionally rotate the co-chairs of the COVID Steering Committee,” said DiChristina and Hitchell. “The change gives the outgoing chair an opportunity to remain on the committee and participate from a different perspective.”
DiChristina told the Tripod that “We [DiChristina and Rojas] have gladly served in these roles, but it wasn’t our intention to have co-chairs serve for the extended period of time that we have served.” He further explained that “the role resulted in a significant amount of additional work along with our normal responsibilities. Jason remains a valuable member of the COVID Steering Committee team until it is decided that the committee is no longer needed to help operate the College.”
Trinity disclosed the members of the Committee for the first time during the fall 2020 semester. Rojas was one of the original members and he served as co-chair alongside DiChristina (co-chair), Suzanne Aber, David Andres, Michael Casey, Brian Heavren, Hitchell, Dickens Mathieu, Takunari Miyazaki, Mitchell Polin, and Angela Paik Schaeffer.
Other members of the Committee who have since departed include: Heavren, who retired from his position as Director of Campus Safety in June; Aber, who retired from her role as Trinity’s Chief Information Officer in the fall of 2020; and Schaeffer who departed from her position as Vice President for Communications and Marketing in June to launch a strategic consulting agency.