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2020’s COVID-19 semester in review

The fall semester of 2020 took a toll on so many in the UNH community; students, faculty and staff alike. The threat of COVID-19 has minimized Wildcats’ old lives to a distant memory that we can only reminisce upon.  

Limited exposure to friends, classmates and colleagues has left these same Wildcats a little more self-aware and a little less social. Having to swab your nose with a nine-inch Q-tip and signing consent agreements suddenly became societal norms. 

UNH begrudgingly integrated itself in Zoom culture, turned dorms into quarantine centers and tried to come together as a university, all while doing their best to stay apart.  

Despite the challenges and wildfires of chaos, something beautiful happened. You got through it. You got through one of the most mentally and physically challenging semesters any college student could experience. In celebration of the great accomplishment, let this serve as fall 2020’s eulogy. 

Summer 2020 

UNH announces that they will hold in-person classes during fall semester – May 8 

President Dean announces COVID-19 fall semester roadmap – June 23 

UNH postpones fall sports – July 17 

Town of Durham adopts mask ordinance – August 4 

UNH COVID-19 Dashboard introduced – August 27 

COVID-19 non-compliance incidents – August 27 

The summer of 2020 might have been the buzzkill of the century, bringing challenges upon the Wildcat community that weren’t foreseen just a few months earlier. However, so many incredible developments throughout the semester stemmed from groundwork done in the summer.  

For starters, the ability to have an in-person education at UNH was truly a miracle considering the state of the country from March up until August when classes started. May 15 was the first day that UNH President James Dean announced that the university would be holding in-person activities in the fall, as he unveiled a series of task forces that had the job of keep the campus as safe and healthy as possible. This is also when the actual logistics were beginning to be planned in terms of personal protective equipment (PPE) for students and how the process was going to work.  

Easing some Wildcats’ anxiety, Durham also became one of the first towns in New Hampshire to issue a mask ordinance, something that Governor Sununu would later enact on the state level. This was essential, as 15,000 people coming into a community at the end of August would’ve spelled trouble without one.   

UNH, trying to become more transparent with their students and faculty, released information that they would have an all-new state of the art testing facility to start the fall semester, and that they would produce same-day results through the facility. They later provided a daily-updated dashboard with cumulative results as well, breaking down which groups of people tested positive that day and various relating statistics. 

Even with all the new COVID-19 reform, there was a level of reservation within the Wildcat community, as no one had been through a pandemic -filled semester. 


UNH announces Wildcat Pass – September 2 

UNH loses COVID-19 tests on first day of testing program – September 6 

Theta Chi party leads to COVID-19 cluster – September 7 

COVID-19 to have long-term mental health effects on students – September 21 

UNH unveils new COVID-19 testing lab, tests 4,000 daily – September 21 

N.H. state representatives refuse to wear masks in Durham – September 25 

Small businesses navigate effects of COVID-19 pandemic – September 25 

UNH cancels J-term/study abroad programs – September 25 

The first few weeks of classes quickly acted as the COVID-19 feeling-out process for all the new procedures for students and faculty. Early in September, the “Wildcat Pass” was both presented to and required for UNH community members. Its purpose, which is to an individual’s level of adherence to the UNH COVID-19 guidelines, hasn’t changed. But, the frequency at which it is required has severely ramped up since its disclosure.  

In this feeling-out period there wasn’t a shortage of hiccups. A residence life event turned into a mask-less ice cream soiree, the first COVID-19 cluster surfaced in a fraternity house and the university lost 250 tests on the first day of self-testing. It wasn’t exactly what UNH pictured when they envisioned the first few weeks going, but the recovery was swift.  

Just a few weeks after the seemingly never-ending issues surfaced, UNH announced that they would be able to test nearly 4,000 students and faculty members in their testing facility with the turnaround time being within 48 hours. This proved to be one of, if not the sole reason that the university made it to Thanksgiving with in-person activities, as the monitoring and maneuvering through positive tests was much easier. 

The early struggles weren’t limited to UNH, as businesses throughout Durham continued to struggle, even with the increased business during the school year. The number of businesses to go under have hit double-digits, with the most notable name being local staple Young’s Restaurant. Other Durham mainstays like Scorpion’s Bar and Grill and Franz’s Food have told The New Hampshire that their adaptation to the challenging times with new methods has been key.  


Dairy Bar closes following COVID-19 concerns – October 8 

Pappas, Mowers talk pandemic – October 16 

Provost Jones announces plans for spring semester – October 29 

With over a month of experience within the new rules and regulations, UNH enjoyed a much calmer month in October.  

With most of the COVID-19 management in place, much of the university’s focus turned to the Nov. 3 general election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, as well as other important state and local down-ballot races.  

The UNH testing facility was also starting to get national recognition by this point, as N.H. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Gov. Chris Sununu and other politicians started visiting the university and facility for their campaign events.  

Near the end of the month, Oct. 29 precisely, Provost Wayne Jones announced the university’s intentions for the upcoming spring semester. The intentions centered around the premise that UNH wants to keep much of the fall procedures in place going into 2021, but with enhancements to help with student engagement inside and outside of the classroom. This reform could come by way of expanding the capacity of face-to-face interaction with student organizations or clubs, as well as various classroom changes.  

The schedule heading into the spring is also much different, as there is no spring break, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It will be replaced with two Fridays without classes (March 19, April 16). 


UNH COVID-19 cases eclipse previous high, 325 in quarantine – November 6 

UNH reacts to new COVID-19 vaccine – November 11 

Gov. Sununu announces statewide mask mandate – November 20 

27 UNH students evicted from on-campus housing for COVID-19 protocol noncompliance – November 28 

How UNH clubs and organizations adapted to COVID-19 – November 28 

Throughout quarantine early in 2020 and throughout the summer, Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Center of Disease Control (CDC) often mentioned that an upturn in cases could happen during the winter months. This certainly turned out to be true in November for the Wildcat community, as the designated quarantine dorms nearly hit full capacity.  

The university hit a new high in active cases on November 6 (60 cases), and it continued to rise from there, getting to twice that number just a week later.   

Before departing for Thanksgiving break, there were 27 students that had to be involuntarily removed from campus because of COVID-19 regulation noncompliance, so on top of the severe struggle with containing the virus, students limped to the semester’s finish line. 

November wasn’t a complete dumpster fire however, as the brand-new Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was proven to be more than 90% effective in prevention of the virus. Both Health & Wellness Medical Director Peter Degnan and various students told The New Hampshire that their excitement for the vaccine was plentiful, but they still had reservations and wanted to get more information. This later proved to be a monumental development as both Pfizer and Moderna, an American Biotechnology company, have vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. 


New Hampshire’s travel restrictions update – December 8 

N.H. Speaker of the House Dick Hinch dies from COVID-19 – December 10 

UNH stuck their fall semester landing pretty gracefully in December as there were no further hiccups as they got everyone home safely. The state of N.H. did update their travel restrictions however, as the quarantine time for travelers was cut to seven days if there was a negative test administered on day six or seven. There were several other clauses within the approval. 

UNH has also opened its spring semester doors in “yellow mode” for the spring, much like it did a semester ago, allowing there to be students in dorms, full campus activities with a student focus and for student organizations and clubs to meet in a limited capacity. 

Since March 11, 2020, when UNH first announced that in-person operations would be delayed until two weeks after spring break because of the fast-spreading coronavirus, there has been an endless list of developments that the Wildcat community has had to endure.  

When sifting through all the mental and physical debris of fall 2020, one thing is for sure: everyone in the Wildcats community should be proud of the sacrifices they made and the resilience that they showed. With that being the case, the new semester poses its own unique and challenging obstacles, ones that will need to be approached with the same diligent attitude.  

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