Responding to a Pandemic

Dear Trinity College Community Members,

This week, as more Trinity students have made their way home and others have begun adjusting to life on an increasingly quiet campus, and as we have transitioned to remote learning and a mostly remote work environment, our emergency management team has been adapting its work to an ever-changing reality.

Over the weekend, Trinity saw its first known confirmation of a COVID-19 case within our community—with someone who hasn’t been on campus in more than a week. It wasn’t necessarily surprising, given the spread of the pandemic, but it was distressing news for the community. Meanwhile, we’ve watched with some anxiety as peers at other institutions experienced confirmed cases of the virus on their campuses and undertook the necessary and difficult process of tracing all known contacts and isolating those individuals, attempting to quell fear as they did.

We’ve put in place similar plans at Trinity. A rapid response team has been poised to act in the event of a COVID-19 case on campus. Plans call for notifying public health officials and relevant administrators on campus, conducting an exposure risk assessment with the public health department, and taking all measures necessary to isolate and care for those who are sick or who’ve been exposed to the virus. And we would communicate with the community early and often, as appropriate.

Collectively, our team has decades of experience managing Trinity and other institutions through a wide variety of emergencies and crises. This situation, though, is different than those others in many ways, not the least of which are the uncertainties around how long it will last and how acute the crisis could become. What we know is that our emergency response plans must be much more dynamic than they are for other situations, as guidance from local, state, and federal authorities changes frequently and as conditions in our area continue to evolve. The state of Connecticut is now reporting to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) widespread community transmission of the virus. And testing, while much more prevalent than it used to be, still isn’t readily available for all. Health officials have been frequently adjusting their testing criteria to prioritize populations of greatest need and best respond to growing demand with a limited supply. That means, then, that a presumptive case on our campus might never be confirmed—simply because a person may not qualify for a test.

So, where does that leave us in terms of Trinity’s ability to keep our promises to you—to do all we can to keep our community healthy and safe, and to communicate clearly and openly with you throughout this crisis? And what should you do, as members of the campus community (whether or not you’re on campus right now), to keep yourself and others from getting sick?

First, to the issue of how we manage illness on our campus: Our focus is on containing the virus as much as possible, because holding it at bay isn’t realistic. Our campus is designed for maximum interaction, not social distancing, and so our ability to isolate those who become ill is limited. That’s why keeping as many people as we can off campus—out of residence halls, classrooms, and communal spaces—is such a high priority. Our emergency response work on campus will be about caring for those who become sick and doing so in ways that keep the illness as contained as possible. We will continue to follow guidance from local and state public health officials and the CDC, and we’ll notify you if changes in that guidance require us to change how we’re responding.

Second, regarding communications: As testing for COVID-19 increases, we are likely to learn of more confirmed cases within our community—both on campus and off. At the same time, there will be members of our community who may have the virus but never get tested, either because they can’t get a test or because they don’t ever feel sick enough to seek medical attention. We will inform the community when we learn of a first confirmed case on our campus, where currently we are housing and caring for about 200 students who have not been able to return home.

But going forward, we won’t be sending out broad notifications to the community about every confirmed case or every suspected case. We will assess the need to communicate broadly on a case-by-case basis, following public health officials’ guidance on any necessary notifications to aid in containing the spread of the virus. And we will update our college advisories website with the current number of known COVID-19 cases in the Trinity community, as we receive confirmation from public health officials or the individuals who test positive.

Third, and perhaps most important, what can you do to keep yourselves and others healthy?

Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of COVID-19. Follow CDC guidelines for social distancing and other preventive measures, including:

  • Avoid physical contact (handshakes, hugs, etc.) and maintain physical distance between yourself and others
  • Wash your hands frequently (especially after being around others)
  • Avoid passing shared communal objects between people
  • Do not share food or beverages

If your healthcare provider (staff and faculty) or the Trinity College Health Center (students) advises you to self-quarantine, follow those guidelines—generally for a period of 14 days—and monitor for symptoms. Employees whose work requires them to be on campus should use sick leave to stay home during the quarantine period.

If you receive a COVID-19 diagnosis and have been directed to self-isolate, notify your supervisor (staff and faculty) or the health center (students). If you have had an active COVID-19 infection, you will need medical clearance to resume work. The CDC’s guidance on this is as follows: “The decision to discontinue home isolation precautions should be made on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.”

If someone in your home has COVID-19, you should contact your healthcare provider for guidance and notify your supervisor (staff and faculty). It’s likely you’ll need to self-quarantine.

The additional 21 days of sick leave granted recently to all Trinity employees are meant to provide peace of mind and encourage you to stay home/not work if you’re unable to—whether you’re sick or you are caring for someone who is.

There’s much about this pandemic that leaves us feeling powerless. But each one of us has both the power and the responsibility to do our part. And those of us with roles in managing the college’s response to COVID-19 promise that as the ground continues to shift, we’ll adjust and keep doing all we can to care for this community.


Sue Aber, VP, Information Services and Chief Information Officer
Brian Heavren, Director, Campus Safety
Martha O’Brien, Director, Trinity College Health Center
Angela Paik Schaeffer, VP, Communications and Marketing