UNH returns to in-person classes; remains in orange mode


Evan Edmonds

University President James W. Dean announced this week that the University of New Hampshire (UNH) would return to in-person classes starting Wednesday, Feb. 24, while campus remains in orange mode “until further notice.”

Following a two-week period of spiking coronavirus (COVID-19) cases on the UNH Durham campus, President Dean said in the announcement that UNH has “successfully demonstrated that we can slow the spread.” If the downward trends continue through the next complete testing period on Thursday, Dean said he hopes to return to yellow operations by Monday, March 1.

The switch to orange mode on Feb. 11 was done to slow the impending spread that was reflected in the testing numbers. It was found that the spread was not occurring in teaching spaces, meaning it was deemed safe enough to resume in-person teaching methods while the rest of the orange mode precautions remain in place to continue “slowing the spread.”

Erika Mantz, Executive Director of UNH Media Relations said they didn’t find any evidence of large parties either, but rather it was a “combination of general COVID fatigue and small informal gatherings as the source of the increase,” also cited by Dean in his orange mode announcement video when he said the “overwhelming majority” of the cases were from off-campus Durham students.

Mantz said they continue to work with landlords to encourage students to adhere to public health guidelines. Additionally she said student life staff members have been meeting with students in off-campus housing to talk about it as well.

On the overall effort to remain safe, Mantz said “students are doing great and committed to complying with the university’s regular testing program.”

Planning for in-person commencement ceremonies in May is still underway, she said, but final plans will be dictated by the most accurate information they have in the spring. As of Feb. 24, there are 171 positive tests on campus as the results are down to 19 daily positives. The highest point was recorded on February 15 with 385 positives, reaching over 80 positive tests a day on the 10th and 11th.

It is still recommended that students follow the guidelines and limit gatherings to six people at a time, a “safety cohort,” and it remains important to maintain the necessary safety precautions to stay safe in the pandemic.

UNH cites ‘COVID fatigue’ as the root of the spike in positive cases throughout the month of February. The University of California, Davis (UC Davis) described in a July 2020 report that ‘COVID fatigue’ is the process of becoming careless about COVID-19 and the state of the pandemic.

Being “tired of being cooped up, tired of being careful, tired of being scared,” are all contributors to the effects of ‘COVID fatigue’ and can create the notion that people are growing less and less concerned about the risks of the world around them.

The best ways to combat the fears that come with ‘COVID fatigue’ are strengthening the bases of your personal mental health:

Getting regular exercise is the “No. 1 best thing we can do for coping,” said Kaye Hermanson, UC Davis health psychologist. Any exercise, even a simple walk helps release endorphins and gets out frustration and adrenaline.

Talking is a huge part of it as well. It is important, Hermanson says, to face the realities of the world around us and share thoughts and feelings about it.

Next, she cites constructive thinking, meaning although people can’t control the pandemic situation around them, they can adjust their ways of thinking: being more compassionate and doing the best you can are examples of this practice.

Lastly, Hermanson lists mindfulness and gratitude, stressing the importance of “being in the moment.” Dreading the past can make it hard to progress into the future.

Photo courtesy of the University of New Hampshire.