More than 100 Sacred Heart University students suspended for violating COVID-19 protocols

More than 100 Sacred Heart University students have been suspended for violating the school’s COVID-19 protocols since the start of the semester, a university spokeswoman said Monday.

In the past month, the private university in Fairfield has issued 109 total “COVID-related suspensions,” Executive Director of Communications Deborah Noack said in an email. Undergraduate classes began Aug. 31.

Suspensions typically last 14 days or 30 days depending on the situation, but two of the students became “repeat offenders” and have been removed from campus for the remainder of the semester, she added. While suspended, students are not allowed to come on campus or participate in any school-related activities.

In early September, following an uptick in coronavirus infections among students living off campus in Bridgeport, the university asked all students living in the city to attend classes from home and avoid visiting the school’s campus.

“With … this flare-up in Bridgeport, we need to be highly cautious and proactive in our decisions,” Sacred Heart officials wrote in a notice to students.

Less than three weeks later university President John J. Petillo chastised students in a video message, saying “a significant number” of them were not taking the pandemic seriously and said the school could suspend in-person education if its cases did not slow.

“We are at a real point of decision about the future of the semester on-ground,” he said in the Sept. 21 video. “We need to turn the tide and get the spread of the virus under control.”

Sacred Heart is not the first school in Connecticut to suspend students for ignoring COVID-19 health and safety protocols, but the total number of students cited is greater than has been reported at other colleges and universities in the state. Qunnipiac University, Connecticut College and UConn have also sent home undergrads for hosting prohibited social gatherings or allowing visitors inside residence halls.

As part of Sacred Heart’s mitigation strategies, random testing among residential students takes place weekly to help detect asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases. As of Monday afternoon, the university’s COVID-19 dashboard showed a total of 131 active cases of the virus, with 49 among on-campus students and 82 among off-campus students. An additional 132 students were previously infected but have since recovered from COVID-19, reported the school.

Before coming to campus, students were also required to get tested for the virus, leading to the discovery of 16 positive results. Those individuals were not allowed to come to campus.

The university continues to operate at a “yellow” alert level, meaning that, among other measures, gatherings are limited, surveillance testing and contact tracing efforts are increased and visitor access to campus buildings is restricted.

In a community update posted to the Sacred Heart website Friday, university officials said they had ramped up testing of asymptomatic students that week, testing more than 1,200 students, faculty and staff in total.

The update said Sacred Heart planned to begin using saliva testing this week to “test even more community members.” The testing method, called Saliva Direct, was developed by the Yale School of Public Health and has been used in the NBA. “We are one of the first education institutions to use the test — if the not the very first,” school officials wrote.

Sacred Heart also put up 10 so-called scent tents around campus with floral arrangements inside so students can tell if they are losing their sense of smell, an early sign of a coronavirus infection.

“We have heard some reports of students who have symptoms of the virus not reporting them and getting a test,” Friday’s community update reads. “You need to contact health services if you have symptoms and follow the instructions they give you. There is absolutely no stigma attached to testing positive. Once you have been directed to isolate or quarantine, please don’t go to class to tell your professor you will be moving to online learning. You should do that electronically.”

Amanda Blanco can be reached at [email protected]

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