COVID guide: A letter from President Laurie Patton

Dear Middlebury Community,
From the moment we began to live with and through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have said this will be a time like no other in the history of Middlebury.
Our town and campus in Vermont, our communities at Monterey and all of our other schools and programs, and the world at large, are being asked to take on new challenges each day. Even as we navigate these challenges, we must think ahead and prepare for what’s next.
As I walk across our Vermont campus, into the dining halls, past quiet residence halls, by small but lively physically distanced gatherings and pickup games under the tents and on Battell Beach, I am reminded of the tremendous dedication and resolve of this community. I am humbled by the commitment our students, faculty, and staff have demonstrated in responding to this world crisis. I am invigorated by the work of creating a rewarding if intensive living and learning experience. I am gratified by the partnerships with our town and state leaders, our hospital, health department and schools, and with our businesses offering safe delivery to students on campus. I am grateful to our residents who have respected our temporary boundaries as our students quarantine and who have reported their concerns to us. And I am energized by changes in our town. Perhaps one of the more telling symbols of hope and our future in the town of Middlebury is the visible progress on the railway project that will place Middlebury along a prominent route within Vermont and beyond. In so many ways, we are moving forward.

Even with these strong signs of progress, we know that all of us must remain vigilant. At the College, we have shifted our thinking and planning from how to reopen to how to stay open in a safe and healthy way. We know from our student arrival day and Day 7 test results that precautionary measures work, and that we must continue to monitor our community to minimize the possibility of spread. As I have said before, there is no perfect solution to the Covid-19 reopening dilemma for any of us. There is an ethics to closing and an ethics toreopening. Our open dialogue on this topic with members of the Middlebury community made our plan stronger. At Middlebury we know residential education reduces inequities for students and supports their mental health. The question for us was and always will be: Can we create the safest possible environment to do so? 
As of early September, our health conditions in Vermont, Addison County, and on campus remain good. We follow a conservative health approach and state guidelines led by a governor who has successfully created an environment with one of the lowest case rates in the nation. We have evidence from our arrival day and follow-up testing that the initial infection rates of students coming into our campus are low. We have a profound obligation to the community to keep it that way. In an abundance of caution, given the spikes in COVID-19 cases across the country, we asked our students and their families to be extra vigilant in their preparations to return to Vermont and then to minimize any potential exposure in transit. Once they arrived on campus, all students were tested, and tested again. Our phased approach to opening includes various levels of quarantine, dedicated isolation facilities, and a health app for daily symptom checks. We will continue to test about 750 people per week throughout the semester, adapting that number as health conditions and science dictate.
As it stands, we have a no-visitor policy for the semester and a no-travel policy as we remain in Phase 1. We look forward to a time when we can invite the community to our campus again. We will stay in Phase 1 the whole semester, however, if the science warrants it. We have a health pledge for students, faculty, and staff; student peer-to-peer education programs; and a sanctioning system specifically designed for COVID-19 that places a high bar on all student behaviors, including off-campus students, with the possibility of immediate removal from Middlebury. Staff are conducting rounds on campus and off campus—including off-campus residences—to monitor student behavior and promote critical safety and health practices. We have given faculty complete choice on course modality and offer flexible work conditions for staff should they need it. We have also given students freedom of choice as to whether they want to study on campus or remotely. 

Our students are interested in learning and continuing their education and they have demonstrated this in their early days back on campus. A survey of returning students showed that their number-one concern is how to care for each other, and they have affirmed that through their compliance with a set of rules different from what they have ever experienced. We have an opportunity to do what we must do—to find a way to live and learn safely with this disease and maximally protect the vulnerable—in the absence of a vaccine and  the lack of a committed and coherent  national approach to eradicating this pandemic. 
We have been asked what it would take for us to convert to remote learning only and to send students home again. There is no one metric that would prompt this course of action other than a government order, but rather a combination of factors would have to be in play. Those factors include the number of positive cases on campus and in the community, any unexplained clusters or unusual patterns in infections, hospital and isolation capacity, the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), and compliance with the College’s rules and regulations for COVID-19. We have planned for all of these eventualities and we continue to create contingencies for reversing our model if we were to determine that students must return home, whether that is at the end of the semester or sooner.

For now, we are focused on staying open. Our goal is to slowly expand activities, including small athletics practices, with physical distancing, face coverings, and hand hygiene. If we reach a steady state and advance to Phase 2, students with negative test results may leave campus, but they must stay within Addison County. Once students receive a second negative Day 7 test, they are like Vermonters who have carefully completed quarantine requirements, and have the same level of risk as any Vermonter. In Phase 3, students may be allowed to travel within the state, depending on health conditions. 
We have been and will continue to be transparent about where we are in this process. All of the test results are available on our COVID-19 Reporting Dashboard. Students will continue to be held accountable to the College’s COVID-19 Conduct Policy and Disciplinary Process and our form for reporting violations will still be in place. We will continue to communicate with the local community about all the health precautions we are taking and the details of our phased approach. And as always, we encourage community members with questions to send them to [email protected].
I would like to thank all of you for your continued support and vigilance. There is nothing more important than community, and I have never been more proud to be part of this one.
Laurie Patton
Middlebury College

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