Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: College reopening raises concerns

Residents of Addison County have amply demonstrated that our highest priority during the pandemic has been the safety and health of our community. Everyone has sacrificed, and these cooperative efforts have resulted in enviable COVID-19 case trends that have allowed us to gradually and safely reopen our businesses and expand opportunities for recreation, entertainment and socializing. We have reason to be proud that our collective efforts have reduced the impact of COVID-19 to our community.
Because the college is currently planning to reopen campus in just a few weeks to college students from all over the U.S. and the world, however, our efforts as a community are threatened and incomplete. We must remain vigilant to the potential this virus still has to devastate our community’s health and economy. While the college has indicated it is planning to take measures, including initial testing of students for COVID-19 and encouraging them to comply with CDC, state and college COVID-19 guidelines, there is ample reason to believe that containment is unrealistic and may be unsuccessful in preventing the spread of COVID-19 into our community:
•  Research has shown that many college-age students will engage in risky behavior regardless of the consequences.
•  Because college students may not see themselves as likely to experience the harsh effects of COVID-19  compared with older adults, they are likely to assess their risk differently and behave accordingly.
•  Campus measures against alcohol abuse by students have not proved effective.
•  Recent evidence has shown that students returning to campus settings around the U.S. have not followed the guidelines of their respective states and the CDC, and COVID-19  outbreaks are already occurring in various communities.
As COVID-19 cases and death data have made very clear, residents of our community are at much higher risk of getting serious cases of COVID-19 and dying than are college-age students. Given the imminent return of students, local residents must have the information they need to understand what risks they face from the college’s policy to open campus during a pandemic. I request that during the pandemic the college act with transparency and involve residents in their decisions that impact the community and communicate with us regularly by:
•  Providing current and easily accessible information on the number of students who test positive, require hospitalization, and need ventilators. 
•  Developing and sharing with the community — prior to the return of students — the threshold criteria the college will use to determine when it is no longer safe for the community to have students on campus
•  Maintaining and providing to the community the current data on where the college stands in regard to its threshold for closing campus again.
Timothy Case
Middlebury

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