Dear Middlebury Community,
In this email, we will provide an overview and then address specific topics as follows:
- Recent Increase in Positive Cases on Campus
- Moving to Endemic Management
- Upcoming Changes and Our Evolving Approach at Middlebury
- Distribution of Antigen Tests to Students and Employees
- Pause on Mandatory Weekly Testing for Students Starting March 14
- Ongoing PCR Testing
- Mask Optional Policy, Except in Classrooms and Other Designated Areas
- Contact Tracing for Students and Employees
Recent Increase in Positive Cases on Campus
With the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 still in our community, we have continued to identify a high number of new cases among students on campus and a small number of new cases among employees during the past 10 days. As of today, we have 135 active cases on campus. This includes the results of both on-campus PCR testing and reported antigen testing on and off campus. While these case counts are higher than we have experienced before, these individuals generally have reported no symptoms or only mild symptoms. This is consistent with reports that the Omicron variant, while more transmissible, presents with less severity among vaccinated and boosted communities. As with many other colleges, we expect that the number of cases on campus will soon decline, as the Omicron wave of COVID-19 is steadily receding nationwide and in Vermont. That is why we at Middlebury continue to move to a more endemic state of living with the virus. Vaccines and boosters are proven to be highly effective for reducing adverse outcomes; rapid antigen tests are now widely available; and, importantly, treatments for high risk individuals have improved and are readily available in Vermont.
While state and U.S. health officials emphasize that case counts and positivity rates are no longer the primary criteria by which we should measure the pandemic, we recognize that this increase in transmission on our campus contributes to student absences and makes it more difficult to plan for in-person classes and activities. Our policies below prioritize educational continuity and the classroom environment as well as changing understandings of health risk in our community.
Moving to Endemic Management
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new guidance for measuring community levels of COVID-19, based not just on case counts but on hospital capacity and resources. As of last week, Addison County was listed at the “medium” community level. The Vermont Department of Health also has shifted focus away from case counts and more toward illness severity and healthcare impact. Governor Phil Scott announced on March 3 and again on March 8 that the state will remove the statewide recommendation for wearing masks indoors effective March 14, “to reflect the lower risk of severe disease” in the state and nationwide. This applies to public schools as well, regardless of the vaccination status of individuals.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Patsy Kelso noted that decisions about whether to wear masks will be based on individual circumstances and health needs rather than on state recommendations. The state also will change its guidance for isolation and quarantine on March 14. Those who test positive should stay home and isolate themselves for five days. Close contacts of those who test positive who are not up to date on vaccination should get tested but will no longer be required to quarantine. Testing as soon as possible is still recommended for those who have symptoms or an exposure to COVID-19. The state no longer conducts contact tracing but asks individuals who test positive to inform their close contacts.
State officials stressed that they will continue to monitor for any emerging variants, and that they are prepared to adjust as necessary.
Upcoming Changes and Our Evolving Approach at Middlebury
With all this in mind, Middlebury will phase in our own policy adjustments, most of which will become effective at 3 p.m. Friday, March 18, the start of our spring break. We are doing so with the goal of maintaining a vibrant learning environment while responding to changes in the prevailing COVID-19 guidance. The key changes are as follows:
- We began distribution of antigen tests to students and frontline employees this week and will continue distribution at various locations for all students and employees.
- We will pause required weekly PCR testing for students and instead emphasize antigen testing for symptomatic individuals beginning March 14.
- We will continue to offer optional PCR testing for students and employees.
- PCR testing is still indicated in certain instances such as to confirm a negative antigen test result and for close contact exposures.
- We will move to a mask optional policy for many parts of campus starting at 3 p.m. Friday, March 18.
- Masks will still be required in classrooms in order to minimize disruptions in class planning.
- Masks are welcome and encouraged for anyone who wishes to continue to wear a mask. We ask that community members exercise kindness, compassion, and patience toward others in support of their personal choices.
- Individual departments will have the discretion to require masks. This includes designated areas such as the Center for Health and Wellness.
- We will continue to monitor for any new COVID-19 variants of concern and adjust our policies as needed.
Distribution of Antigen Tests to Students and Employees
Antigen test kits will be available for students and employees as follows:
- Antigen tests are available for pickup at dining hall check-in, the Virtue PCR testing center, circulation desk at Davis Family Library, and Health Services.
- We distributed antigen test kits to front-line departments including Public Safety, Student Affairs, Operations, and the Center for Health and Wellness starting Monday, March 7.
- Antigen test kits and N-95 and KN-95 masks will be available for all employees at the Human Resources office at Marble Works, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and at the Davis Family Library circulation desk during regular business hours. The kits contain two tests each. We ask that employees take just one box at a time.
Pause on Mandatory Weekly Testing for Students Starting March 14
The highly contagious but more mild nature of the Omicron variant has made widespread surveillance testing of our student population less useful. And, while this could change if another variant of concern were to emerge, rapid antigen testing for symptomatic individuals is now a more effective strategy. Therefore, starting on March 14, students will not be required to participate in weekly mandatory PCR surveillance testing on campus.
Please note that we will continue antigen test distribution for spring break travel but will not require prearrival or arrival testing before or after spring break. We do recommend that students and employees take an antigen test immediately if they are symptomatic.
Ongoing PCR Testing
Students and employees will continue to have the option of participating in PCR testing at the testing center at Virtue Field House. This includes the time period before and after spring break for those who wish to have tests.
PCR tests are are indicated for the following reasons:
- For foreign travel requirements
- To determine whether a symptomatic individual is positive for COVID-19
- To confirm a negative antigen test result if symptomatic
- For those who do not have symptoms but were exposed to someone who tested positive (on Day 5 after exposure)
- For those who intend to spend time with someone who is at higher risk
Antigen tests should be used for:
- Anyone who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, including those who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous 90 days. This includes symptomatic serial testing (one test, followed by another test 24 hours later if the first test is negative).
Following are guidelines for student PCR testing on campus:
- Students who are not experiencing symptoms may choose to sign up for a PCR test on Mondays or Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., using the student testing link.
- Students who are experiencing symptoms and have a negative home antigen test may sign up for a test using the student testing link.
- Testing will be offered on Monday, March 14, and Wednesday, March 16, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and on Tuesday, March 15, and Thursday, March 17, between 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- During spring break, testing will be offered on Monday, March 21, and Wednesday, March 23, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Following are guidelines for employee testing:
- Employees who are not experiencing symptoms may use the employee testing link to sign up for appointments.
- Employees who are symptomatic may use a home antigen test kit and/or arrange PCR testing through their healthcare provider, the Vermont Department of Health, or a local pharmacy.
We encourage all to review the instructions for Those Exposed, Symptomatic, or Who Have Tested Positive for COVID-19, which can assist individuals in making plans and anticipating decisions ahead of time based on their health status and level of vaccination.
Mask Optional Policy, Except in Classrooms and Other Designated Areas
The Vermont campus will move to a mask optional policy in indoor spaces other than classrooms, at Center for Health and Wellness offices, and in areas designated by various departments, starting at 3 p.m. Friday, March 18, the beginning of spring break. Everyone should continue to carry a mask with them in case it is needed.
Anyone who wishes to wear a mask indoors is encouraged to do so. Masks will be available in designated areas on campus. Employees who have questions about whether to continue to wear a mask at work should discuss this with their supervisor.
Masks will continue to be required in classrooms at all times, to ease some of the challenges for faculty in planning classes and managing classroom dynamics. Moreover, it will lessen the burden of negotiation for both faculty and students in the classroom, and keep the focus as much as possible on learning.
Contact Tracing for Students and Employees
Students and employees who report positive test results will be provided with instructions on how to identify and notify their own close contacts. This matches the approach taken by the state of Vermont, which relies on individuals to conduct their own contact tracing and notification. This means that students and employees will be responsible for notifying their friends, professors, classmates and others if they were in close proximity with or without masks for longer than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period.
Thank you for your continued patience and understanding as we make these adjustments and resume activities and operations on campus. We know this is a lot to take in, and each individual will process this information differently. Moving forward together will require compassion, kindness, and knowledge that each individual will have a different way of adapting to these changes. We hope to move beyond COVID-19 in the same spirit of care that has helped our community over the past two difficult years.
Chief Health Officer and College Physician
Vice President for Student Affairs