Covid cases on campus decline after reaching high of 535


Hannah Donahue, Content Editor

As University of New Hampshire (UNH) students returned to the town of Durham in preparation for the spring semester, COVID-19 cases began to rise – hitting an all-time campus high of 535 total positive cases.  


As of Feb. 13, the positivity rate stood at 3.55% with 241 active cases.   


The rampant spread of COVID-19 among the Durham community is largely attributed to the omicron variant, due to it being much more transmissible than prior COVID-19 variants. Over 14,000 members of the UNH Durham community have self-reported their COVID-19 vaccination and have been verified. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “anyone with omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.” 


In an email interview with The New Hampshire, Health & Wellness Medical Director Peter Degnan said of the high number of cases, “Fortunately, the vast majority of individuals ill with the Omicron variant have had relatively mild symptoms; however, for a few, the Omicron variant has resulted in more severe illness.” 


This comes as Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig wrote in the Durham Friday Updates on Feb. 4 about why the town has not implemented a mask mandate in the downtown area. 


“Our general outlook at this stage of the pandemic is that individuals must make personal decisions concerning the level of safety they need to exercise based upon their personal health circumstances and the degree of risk they feel comfortable taking on,” wrote Selig. “Someone with higher risk may want to limit trips to areas where people congregate in larger numbers, wear high quality Kn-95 masks, participate remotely in public meetings, etc.” 


The neighboring city of Portsmouth, N.H. has had an indoor mask mandate in place since Jan. 13. Nearby states such as Massachusetts and New York have begun to ease COVID-19 restrictions, with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announcing the lifting of the statewide school mask mandate at the end of February and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul no longer requiring masks or proof of vaccination when entering most indoor public places beginning Feb. 10. 


In an email on Feb. 4 sent by UNH Police Department Chief Paul Dean, Health & Wellness Medical Director Peter Degnan and Senior Vice Provost for Research, Economic Engagement and Outreach Marian McCord, members of the UNH Durham Community were reminded that the presence of COVID-19 remains strong on campus.  


The email also stated that the number of positive tests was expected due to students returning to campus for the spring and the omicron variant, but “at this time our resources are not overwhelmed.” 


Prior to the start of the semester, isolation policies were updated to require students who test positive for COVID-19 that live in New England are to return home. In addition to this, students who test positive are also able to end isolation and return to classes after day five if they are fever free and their symptoms are improving, as well as providing proof of a negative antigen/rapid test. However, at the time, the university was not providing rapid tests. 


On Feb. 10, Dean revealed in an email to the community that a COVID-19 testing satellite is now open at the New England Center (NEC) in Durham, located behind Stoke Hall at 15 Strafford Ave. This site is meant for community members who have COVID-19 symptoms, who are wanting to take a rapid test in order to test out of isolation, or who are needing documentation of a negative/positive PCR result for travel or another purpose. Anyone who meets the criteria is asked to use the NEC testing satellite rather than the self-swab drop boxes on campus. 


“Thankfully, we are seeing some decline of COVID infection numbers in New Hampshire,” wrote Degnan. “While some of this reported decline may represent a shift to more in-home testing that does not get reported to the state, I think the decline in total COVID cases is real, and will likely further decrease in the coming weeks. I know that the university senior leadership is watching this situation closely, and we meet regularly with our state health department officials and other college/university representatives to be sure UNH is responding appropriately.” 


As for Health & Wellness’ response to the increase in cases, Degnan remained positive and pleased with the staff’s hard work and dedication. 


“We have tried desperately to remain open and available to our community for non-COVID health needs, and for the most part, I think we have been successful in that goal,” said Degnan. “We truly have an amazing skilled and dedicated staff!”

Photo courtesy of UNH.