Lessons from the Surge

A Message from the COVID-19 Coordinator


  • Lessons from the surge
  • Support resources for students, faculty, and staff

As the pandemic evolves, we have entered a time of contrasts and seeming contradictions. While COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to decline in Connecticut, we are still experiencing high numbers of COVID-19 infections among our undergraduates. Last week over 400 undergraduates tested positive for COVID-19; although numbers now appear to be declining, this morning there were 244 undergraduate students in isolation. It appears that unmasked social activities contributed substantially to this recent Yale College surge, while adherence to masking has protected us in the classroom. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as many states and towns are poised to relax indoor masking requirements. 

In my message this week, I will share some information provided by the surge—information that will not only help us address our current campus conditions but will also enable us to better navigate the changes in public health guidance coming our way. Our shared goal is not only to keep our campus community as safe as possible but also to allow us to participate fully and meaningfully in on-campus activities. Reducing the numbers of COVID-19 infections not only enables us to ease university restrictions but also minimizes the number of those who need to absent themselves from activities due to isolation requirements.

Lessons from the surge

As the image below shows, at the end of December and early in the month of January our community, like many others, experienced a surge in COVID-19 infections among faculty, staff, students, and dependents. This pattern echoed the national surge in infections caused by the Omicron variant and followed a period when many people engaged in holiday activities. Anticipation of this post-holiday surge is the primary reason that university leaders decided to delay the start of the semester and to begin with online instruction.

After a relatively quiet start to the semester, COVID-19 infections began to rise three weeks ago, but this time predominantly among undergraduate students. This increase coincided with announcements regarding planned relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.  Additionally, the “waves” of the surge appeared to crest in testing done following weekends:

surge in cases

Most recent dates on left. Includes external test results.

(Click on the image above for a larger view of the illustration.)

The university responded to the large numbers of undergraduate infections by activating its “isolate in place” policy to supplement the capacity of isolation housing. At the same time, our Contact Tracing Team focused their efforts on determining the factors that contributed to the outbreak. A graphic representation of their findings is presented below:

“Positive” refers to individuals who subsequently tested positive after the reported contact.

(Click on the image above for a larger view of the illustration.)

What have we learned from the surge so far?

  • Much as we wish it were otherwise, COVID-19 is still in our midst, and the current variant is highly infectious. That said, serious illnesses and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have decreased.
  • Masking with Yale-approved masks is effective in decreasing the transmission of COVID-19.
    • A majority of the infections during the surge have been linked to unmasked, social activities and prolonged unmasked interactions with persons subsequently found to be infected with COVID-19.
    • There has been no evidence of transmission in classrooms, where compliance with masking is high and our health and safety guidelines call for adequate or upgraded ventilation and a limited duration of any potential exposure.
  • Infections among faculty and staff have remained low, aligning with regional trends, despite the outbreak among undergraduate students. Infections among graduate and professional students have also been relatively low. There has been no recent evidence for workplace transmission of COVID-19.
  • Public health experts and staff from many units on campus have once again come together in an extraordinary effort to provide isolation support for an unprecedented number of undergraduate students infected with COVID-19. 
    • Maintaining designated isolation housing in Arnold and McClellan Halls is itself a logistical challenge and a draw on staff resources. This challenge—and the demands it imposes—have been magnified considerably with the need to expand our isolation capacity to include isolating in place in the residential colleges. Staff have risen to the challenge with extraordinary effort, often above and beyond their usual duties.
    • Students have also experienced significant challenges as they try to understand and navigate new isolation protocols and access support services.

One common observation, related only in part to the recent surge in infections, is that many, many of us are stressed—weary of the pandemic and its impacts, either eager for or wary of the easing of restrictions, trying to make sense of seemingly conflicting reports and statistics, bracing for another twist in the pandemic’s path, and wondering if there will be anything close to a “new normal” soon.

Therefore, as I close this week’s message, I want to take the opportunity to remind you that Yale offers many resources to support your physical and mental well-being.

For students

For faculty and staff

Thank you,

Stephanie S. Spangler, M.D.
Vice Provost for Health Affairs and Academic Integrity
Clinical Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences
University COVID-19 Coordinator