St. Michael’s goes remote after COVID-19 outbreak

Students at St. Michael’s College, shown here at a recent club fair in a Facebook post, will be taking classes remotely after eight people on campus tested positive for COVID-19.

St. Michael’s College is temporarily going all-remote after surveillance testing revealed eight cases of the coronavirus, the Colchester school announced Thursday morning.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we are transitioning to all-remote classes, effective immediately, and for the rest of the week in order to allow the (Health Department) to conduct contact tracing. All in-person activities, including athletics, are also suspended through the weekend. Dining will be takeout only,” St. Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt wrote in a message posted to the school’s website.
Testing conducted on Tuesday at first returned two positive cases, according to school officials. Results received Thursday morning revealed six more, all asymptomatic.
The Vermont Health Department has already completed contact tracing and identified approximately 50 student contacts, school officials said Thursday evening. Students identified as close contacts have been tested and placed into quarantine.
“We have been working closely with the VDH throughout the day, and they have let us know that so far it appears that these positive cases are connected to each other. This is encouraging in that it follows similar instances of positive cases on college and university campuses, which were then quickly traced and isolated, and additional spread was contained,” Dawn Ellinwood, St. Michael’s dean of students, said in an email to the college community.
Ellinwood added that the college had decided it would test all students who had not undergone surveillance testing this week.
The residential college welcomed about 1,500 students back to campus this fall for a mix of in-person and online classes. It required students to quarantine, per the state’s guidance, upon arrival, and to test for the virus.
Surveillance testing has also been conducted at the college on a weekly basis, with about 500 students tested at random each time. The school maintains a dashboard tracking the results. The last time surveillance testing returned a positive result was on the week of Sept. 24, when only a single student tested positive.
Colleges nationwide have been the site of massive outbreaks as students returned to campus amidst the pandemic. But Vermont’s strict reopening guidelines have thus far been generally successful, with most schools reporting case counts in the single digits, despite large-scale surveillance testing efforts.
Many colleges, including St. Mike’s and Middlebury College, have even begun announcing plans for the spring semester that continue in-person learning opportunities. In Rutland County, Castleton University, which began the year with all-online classes, recently announced it would offer about a third of its classes in person this spring.
St. Michael’s has conducted 4,674 PCR tests so far this year, and only nine in total have come back positive. The University of Vermont, the state’s largest college, has conducted over 85,000 tests, and only seen 26 positive results so far. On Wednesday, Northern Vermont University in Lyndon reported its first-ever case of the virus, according to the Caledonian Record. The school has conducted 3,849 tests this year.

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