The University of Delaware is warning its faculty not to tell students if their classmates get a confirmed case of coronavirus.
The change in protocol, sent in an email on Wednesday reviewed by The Washington Post, comes as rising cases on campus resulted in the university’s special accommodations for those who have COVID-19 filling up.
The email said that “if an instructor is notified by a student that the student has COVID-19, the instructor may not tell the class that someone has tested positive for COVID-19.”
Instead, the university said, professors should tell students that “given the current incidence of COVID-19 on campus, we should assume that we may have contact with individuals who are shedding COVID-19, perhaps unknowingly.” Students deemed to have been in close contact with a COVID-positive person would be notified by the school’s health department, the email said.
With masks required indoors and 90 percent of students fully vaccinated, the university wrote that “there is low risk of catching COVID-19 while in class.” A spokesperson for the university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The situation at the University of Delaware highlights the complicated process that schools and universities across the country face as they welcome students back to classrooms while the delta variant fuels a surge in cases.
The University of Delaware said in a separate email to students provided to The Post that its case increase mirrored the rise in infections across the country, but that “large off-campus gatherings are fueling the rise in cases.” It reminded students of penalties for “unruly” parties.
The United States is averaging more than 149,000 new coronavirus cases each day, largely among unvaccinated people.
Students were also told in the email that on-campus isolation accommodations were “near capacity.” Most students who test positive “should expect” to be sent home, the university said, putting at risk family members and others they could come in contact with as they head home.
In a letter to university officials on Tuesday, the union for university faculty asked that regular testing be required for students and staff — vaccinated and unvaccinated — coming to campus. Vaccinated people are exempt from weekly testing requirements, according to university policy.
Colleges and universities across the country have varied in their approaches to managing in-person classes while cases rise. Many universities have issued requirements for students to get vaccinated and wear masks.
But with a changing landscape of local rules, rising cases and bans by some Republican governors on mask and vaccine mandates, coronavirus policies at some colleges and universities have proved challenging for students to navigate.
Clemson University in South Carolina started the school year without a requirement, only encouraging students to wear masks, with school leaders saying they were hindered by a state ban on mask mandates.
But at an event for new students last month, the university’s president, Jim Clements, tweeted a picture of him with smiling, maskless students. A second photo showed a packed indoor auditorium filled with mostly maskless faces. Clements himself was wearing a mask, but one parent told the Post that the photos set a bad example.
After the state Supreme Court allowed universities to issue mask mandates, Clemson said it would temporarily require masks indoors on campus until Oct. 8.