College testing nets six COVID cases
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College has completed its initial three rounds of COVID-19 testing for newly arrived spring term students, and while the college has identified more positive cases among spring arrivals than it did among those arriving last fall, the results are still promising.
After three rounds of testing, the college has identified six positive cases among 2,024 residential students.
All six students are currently in isolation and receiving care from the college, and another 20 are quarantined as close contacts.
This was not unexpected.
“With the increased incidence of COVID-19 worldwide and in Vermont — including new, more transmissible strains — this semester could be more challenging than the fall, and we are prepared for a higher incidence of the virus on campus,” wrote Middlebury College President Laurie Patton in a Feb. 24 letter to the community.
Consequently, whereas last fall the college tested incoming students two times during their first week in town — on Day 0 and Day 7 — this spring it added a third “mid-week” arrival test.
In the college’s first (Day 0) round of testing on Feb. 21 and 22, one student tested positive.
The second (mid-week) round of testing on Feb. 25 identified four additional positive student cases.
On Feb. 26, despite the uptick in arrival cases, Dean of Students Derek Doucet offered hope in a campus-wide announcement.
“If prevalence on campus after Day 7 test results is low and compliance with essential health and safety measures is high, we anticipate the following changes in restrictions:
• Up to six close contacts, as defined in the Spring Campus Guide, permitted.
• Travel within the town of Middlebury permitted for essential needs, including groceries, off-campus storage unit access, prescription medications.
• Use of Rikert Nordic Ski Center and the Snow Bowl….
• Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 students, with face coverings and physical distancing, permitted.”
In the same announcement, Doucet held out the possibility that classes, which have been fully remote since they began on Feb. 24, could go in-person as early as Friday, March 5.
Earlier this week the results from the third (Day 7) round of testing were received, revealing one more student case.
The entire campus remains under arrival quarantine until further notice.
How quickly the college relaxes COVID restrictions will depend a great deal on student behavior, Doucet said.
“We’ve learned a great deal from our own fall experience and what has occurred at other colleges and universities,” he wrote on Feb. 26. “It has become clear that group gatherings that don’t follow health and safety expectations, and violating quarantine and isolation requirements after known exposure, are very risky behaviors that have led directly to outbreaks and lockdowns at other campuses. While I know it is difficult, I want to reiterate how critical it is that we all follow expectations fully in these areas. Recent positive test results have highlighted this point and it is not an exaggeration to say that our in-person experience may depend upon it.”
As of Wednesday nine Middlebury students had been disciplined for substantiated violations of campus health and safety protocols.
The dangers of not following health and safety protocols are evidenced in some other schools in the region.
An outbreak has led to a lockdown, for instance, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H, which as of March 3 had 139 active COVID cases among students.
Adjusting for campus population, this is roughly 1,000% higher than Middlebury.
Dartmouth officials suspect that multiple clusters of COVID at the school have arisen from community spread within the campus, according to that school’s COVID-19 reporting dashboard.
Merchants near the campus have begun cutting back on hours and services because of the Dartmouth outbreak, VT Digger reported Wednesday.
At this time the Middlebury campus — including the golf course and the portions of the Trail Around Middlebury that cross through campus — are closed to the public.
For those local residents who’ve seen yellow-vested monitors around the edge of campus recently, and wondered what they’re doing, Associate Vice President for Public Affairs Julia Ferrante explained:
“Similar to the fall, we have hired community information and safety monitors to assist us during the campus quarantine period,” she told the Independent.
Middlebury has hired Burlington-based Chocolate Thunder Security, which takes its name from basketball star Daryl Dawkins, who played in the NBA from 1975 to 1989 and who had several nicknames for himself, including the “Chocolate Thunder.”
Chocolate Thunder safety monitors are positioned at campus boundaries and around certain outdoor spaces between noon and midnight, seven days a week, Ferrante explained. They’re stationed at various intersections, including South Main Street and Academy Way, College Street and Academy Way, and Weybridge and Mill streets during the day, and on campus at night.
“The community information and safety monitors will inform individuals walking on and off campus about the visitor rules and quarantine restrictions that the college has put in place, including the need to maintain physical distancing, wear face coverings, and avoid gathering in large groups,” Ferrante said. “At this time, the campus remains closed except to authorized students, faculty, staff and vendors, and students living on campus must remain here. Students living off campus who are enrolled to study on campus will be permitted to travel to and from campus and their residences once in-person classes begin.”
“We are grateful for the partnership of our community,” Ferrante said. “We welcome the community to learn more about our semester in the spring guide (and) we publish the latest information on our Campus Status webpage.”
Middlebury will begin its twice-weekly targeted dynamic testing of the college community next week, Ferrante said.
For more information about Middlebury College and COVID-19, visit:
• Spring Campus Guide: tinyurl.com/1cl07e85.
• Middlebury College COVID-19 Reporting Dashboard: tinyurl.com/5qpxvbst.
• Campus Status page: tinyurl.com/1gkagca3.
Reach Christopher Ross at email@example.com.
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