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Despite brief uptick post-fall break, COVID-19 cases remain low

<h6>A graph showing the daily positive cases from Oct. 26 to Nov. 1.</h6>
<h6>Graphic courtesy of Princeton University.</h6>
A graph showing the daily positive cases from Oct. 26 to Nov. 1.
Graphic courtesy of Princeton University.

Over the days immediately following the end of fall break, the University documented a total of seven cases among undergraduate students: three on Oct. 25 and four on Oct. 26. As of Nov. 1, the University has not yet recorded additional positive cases among undergraduate students. 

On Oct. 25, students returned to in-person classes after the week-long fall break. In advance of the break, the Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan issued guidance from University Health Services (UHS) concerning COVID-19 testing requirements, travel guidelines, and information pertaining to altered COVID-19 testing guidelines to go in effect after fall break. 

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According to the guidance, the University would potentially consider relaxing the indoor face covering requirements for vaccinated students in early November if students “remain vigilant and the campus positivity case rate does not increase substantially after Fall Break.”

After a brief uptick in positive cases, the University’s COVID-19 dashboard reports a 0.13 percent COVID-19 positivity rate during the week ending on Oct. 29 for undergraduate students participating in the asymptomatic testing protocol.

Among the graduate student body and faculty/staff, the COVID-19 dashboard reports that there have been one and three positive cases, respectively, since the end of fall break. 

The consistently low COVID-19 positivity rate on campus after fall break, during which many students departed campus to visit family or embark on travels, was an outcome that the University had anticipated.

“The number of cases among students who traveled during fall break has been in line with what we anticipated following off-campus travel. To fully assess the impact of fall break travel, we will need to analyze data from the full 10-day period from Monday, Oct. 25 to Wednesday, Nov. 2,” wrote Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss in an email to The Daily Princetonian.

Hotchkiss additionally noted that potential modifications to the indoor face masking policy are currently under deliberation by the University.

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“We are considering some incremental changes to the policy on face coverings. We will share more information in the coming weeks,” Hotchkiss wrote. 

Jordan Slaughter ’24 expressed a lack of surprise at how the University had a minor uptick in positive cases followed by a consistent decline.

“People were already going to New York or Philadelphia and other places off-campus [before fall break]. I expected there to be around the same number of cases, or a small increase, which is what we saw, but nothing too major,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter’s thoughts regarding a potential lifting of the indoor mask mandate were more ambivalent.

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“I think as far as the mask mandate goes, it seems like now, especially with all of the illnesses that have been going around that a lot of people don’t take it as seriously as they should be, but cases are still low. But we’ll probably see a spike in other illnesses with the winter coming,” Slaughter said. “While COVID-wise, it might be okay to remove the mask mandate, I think that other-illness-wise, it might be helpful to have it.”

Jessica Bookholdt ’24 reported that she was slightly taken aback by the absence of a surge in positive cases following fall break and voiced that she favored the continuation of the indoor masking policy until at least the end of the fall semester.

“I’m surprised at how low the COVID numbers have been,” Bookholdt said. “I even have a friend who is fully vaccinated who recently got COVID, so it is pretty surprising that we’ve done so well.” 

“But that being said, when it comes to the masks, I think a lot of the difficulties that come with wearing masks happened during the hotter months and now that we’re going into the cooler months, I don’t really see how much of a burden it’s going to be going forward to finish the semester wearing the masks and maybe reevaluate the mandate for the spring,” she said.

Amy Ciceu is a staff writer who often covers research and COVID-19-related developments. She also serves as a Newsletter Contributor. She can be reached at aciceu@princeton.edu.

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