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Middlebury College goes fully remote on Friday amid COVID outbreak

On the Middlebury College campus Friday the walkway between McCullough Student Center and a temporary tent set up for outdoor dining was deserted as the college moved to all-online instruction after 34 students tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

MIDDLEBURY — After reporting 47 new cases of COVID-19 since Wednesday, Middlebury College switched to remote instruction Friday morning and is encouraging students to leave early for winter break, which begins after exams end on Dec. 19.

The college received 10 positive test results on Wednesday, 34 on Thursday and 3 on Friday, according to successive campus-wide memos, and now has a total of 53 active cases on campus, including three employees.

That number could increase as the college continues to receive the results of testing conducted earlier in the week.

Changes on campus are being instituted “out of an abundance of caution,” and because it’s so close to the end of the semester, said Chief Health Officer Mark Peluso, Vice President for Student Affairs Smita Ruzicka and Provost Jeff Cason in a Thursday night memo.

“With more than 99 percent of students fully vaccinated and many already receiving booster doses, the risk of adverse health outcomes from the Delta variant is low,” they wrote. But “rising student cases that require isolation, ongoing transmission, and the few days remaining in the semester warrant the change to remote instruction.”

Middlebury College has logged more than 60 COVID cases this semester, compared with six in the fall of 2020 and 14 in the spring of 2021. Unlike last year, however, the college has not required COVID-19 testing throughout the fall 2021 semester.

News of the spike on campus coincides with a recent spike in cases locally and statewide.

Addison County has logged 348 positive cases in the last two weeks, which is more than 16% of the total number of cases (2,142) since the pandemic began, according to Dec. 10 data from the Vermont Department of Health.

Vermont has more than doubled its total cases in less than six months.

The college received word of the 34 positive cases on Thursday between 5 and 5:30 p.m., just as the Midd Night Stroll, an evening holiday shopping event in downtown Middlebury, was getting under way. The college had purchased $56,000 in Middlebury Money ahead of the event, to help local businesses. Hundreds of students, who had each received $20 of Middlebury Money, thronged the streets on Thursday night, in addition to a good crowd of local residents.

Triangle Park in downtown Middlebury with pack Thursday night with many of those out shopping being Middlebury College Students. The college had given each student $20 in Middlebury Money to spend at retailers during the Midd Night Stroll late night shopping promotion, which also drew many local residents.
Photo by Jason Duquette-Hoffman

Earlier on Thursday, before the test results were received, student organizers had sent out a message encouraging students to be vigilant about COVID-19 protocols during the Midd Night Stroll, including wearing face coverings and observing social distancing, Director of Media Relations Sarah Ray told the Independent in an email Friday afternoon.

The college is conducting contact tracing, officials said, and anyone determined to be a close contact will be notified. Many of the new campus cases appear to be connected, occurring in clusters among people who socialize together, they said.

Additional testing for students will be available at the Virtue Field House on Saturday, and employees may get tested at state-run sites, pharmacies or through their own healthcare providers.

After the first edition of this story was published online Friday afternoon Middlebury Chief of Police/Emergency Management Director Tom Hanley announced that, in response to the recent spike in COVID infections, the Vermont Department of Health is holding four special COVID testing dates in Middlebury. No appointment is needed, though if desired, one can be made at healthvermont.gov. The testing will take place in the parking lot of the town recreation center at 55 Middle Road, Middlebury at the following times:

• Saturday, Dec.,11, 8 a.m. till noon. 150 PCR tests

• Sunday, Dec. 12, 8 a.m. till noon 150 PCR tests

• Monday, Dec. 13, 8 a.m. till 6 p.m. 250 PVCR tests

• Tuesday, Dec. 14, 4 p.m. till 8 p.m. 150 PCR tests

Earlier this week state regulators required health insurance companies working in Vermont to pay for home testing kits for COVID-19.

On the Middlebury campus, all classes and exams are being held remotely, all indoor events are canceled or postponed, and dining halls are offering only grab-and-go meals. Campus buildings, including the library remain open to students.

Employees will continue working under existing COVID protocols.

The college has created a webpage with detailed instructions for members of the campus community who have been exposed, are symptomatic, or who have tested positive for COVID-19. Officials have also set up a telephone information line for students and their families, and encourage employees with questions to confer with their supervisors or with human resources.

“We know this is a lot to process on the last day of fall classes and as students prepare for final examinations,” wrote Peluso and Ruzicka in a Friday afternoon campus memo. “We appreciate your patience, flexibility, and understanding as we manage these changes and look forward to working with you to make this transition as smooth as possible.”

Students at Middlebury College, who until recently could eat at this tent on campus, will be able to get only grab-and-go food from dining serves after the school sustained a spike in COVID-19 cases on Thursday and on Friday urged those who could leave for break early to do so.

Middlebury’s COVID-19 Reporting Dashboard, which is updated almost daily, can be found here.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include data and information released by the college late Friday afternoon, and the date marking the end of the Fall 2021 semester has been corrected.

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