Fall Semester Prearrival Planning and COVID-19 Updates
| by Smita Ruzicka, Mark Peluso, and Michelle McCauley
Dear Middlebury Community,
We are writing to provide some updates about our fall semester planning and expected COVID-19 protocols, which will help ensure a strong start to the new academic year.
In this email we will address the following:
- Our Approach for the Fall
- Latest Trends with COVID-19
- Prearrival Planning and Preparations
- Fall Protocols
- Vaccination Requirements
- Mask-Friendly Campus
- Testing Requirements
- Testing Opportunities
- Isolation Protocols for Those Who Test Positive
- How to Stay Up-to-Date
Please note that all students, faculty, and staff are required to be in compliance with our vaccination policy. Students who are not will not be permitted on campus. If they arrive out of compliance with our vaccination policies, they will be required to immediately depart, at their own expense.
Our Approach for the Fall
As we prepare for our third fall semester of living with COVID-19, it is important to note that the pandemic has evolved into more of an endemic state, and our responses to it have changed accordingly. While we expect that COVID-19 will be with us for some time to come, we now are practiced in how to protect our most vulnerable while providing a vibrant living, learning, and working environment in support of our academic mission. That means that we will continue with some health and safety measures that we know are effective while we monitor the latest developments with COVID-19 and advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Vermont Department of Health (VDH).
In addition to following CDC and VDH guidelines, a key part of our approach has been to emphasize personal responsibility, and that will continue. Individuals should consider their own risks and the risks of those they spend time with as they decide what additional measures to continue. The COVID-19 Policy Group meets regularly to assess the appropriate protocols for our community, and we will keep you informed of any necessary changes. We encourage all members of our community to regularly check CDC guidance as well.
Latest Trends with COVID-19
We now are contending with variants of COVID-19 that are considered more transmissible but less severe than earlier strains. We know that prior infections, vaccinations, and available treatments are effective in minimizing the worst outcomes of the virus. At the same time, strategies that were once cornerstones of our response––such as positive case counts, contact tracing, and surveillance testing––are considered less effective under current conditions. Our emphasis now is on vaccinations, symptomatic antigen testing, CDC and VDH community levels, isolation-in-place recovery strategies, and a mask-friendly/mask-optional policy that allows individuals and groups to best address their health situations and environments.
Community levels, which are based on factors including case numbers and hospitalization rates, are currently classified as low by both the CDC (for Addison County) and VDH (for Vermont). Individuals and departments are encouraged to consider community levels in making decisions about masking and other protocols.
Also among recent developments, the Omicron subvariant BA.5 is the predominant circulating strain in the United States, and we are monitoring other subvariants, including BA.2.75. The subvariant BA.5 is considered highly transmissible, even among individuals with prior COVID-19 infections and those who are up-to-date with vaccinations. BA.5 is thought to be less severe than prior COVID-19 strains, but it can still cause significant or prolonged infections, especially in individuals with underlying medical conditions. Being up-to-date with vaccinations, as is required at Middlebury, can reduce the risk of experiencing the worst effects of the virus. Medications remain effective against the BA.5 subvariant as well.
We are aware that some individuals are at higher risk for adverse health outcomes, and protecting those who are most vulnerable remains a priority. We also acknowledge that there are adverse impacts of mitigation measures––including but not limited to delayed health care for other illnesses, isolation, stress, and other impacts on mental health. Living together with COVID-19 means accepting that cases will occur, but also doing what we can do to minimize transmission.
Prearrival Planning and Preparations
In addition to required vaccination, we as a community need to work together to support a strong start to the academic year. For this reason, we recommend the following preparations for all individuals prior to returning to campus:
- All students, faculty, and staff must be in compliance with our vaccination policy. This means being up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccinations or having an approved medical or religious exemption prior to coming to campus.
- Individuals should reduce their exposure risk starting 14 days before their return to campus. This may range from wearing masks in crowded social settings to avoiding crowds, especially in areas with a medium or high CDC community level.
- Individuals who are in isolation after a COVID-19 diagnosis and/or symptomatic should not travel to campus until their isolation period is complete and/or their symptoms have resolved.
- Individuals who have even mild symptoms should take an antigen test.
- If the antigen test is negative, it should be confirmed with a negative PCR test for those who have not had COVID-19 in the past 90 days.
- PCR tests can show positive results for up to 90 days after an infection. Because of this, those who are symptomatic and have had an infection within the last 90 days should take additional antigen tests daily, for up to four days, to confirm a negative result.
- Individuals who have not had a COVID-19 infection in the past 90 days may wish to have a PCR test 72 hours prior to travel to rule out an asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. This is recommended but not required.
- We highly recommend that all students, faculty, and staff receive flu shots this fall. Information about the availability of flu shots on campus for students and employees will be included in future communications.
During the fall semester, we will continue many of the practices that were in place for the spring. Following is an overview of what to expect:
We continue to require all students, faculty, and staff to be up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations except for those with approved medical or religious exemptions. This requirement is critical to supporting a healthy campus.
IMPORTANT: New students who have not uploaded their vaccination documentation to the student health portal before they come to Middlebury will not be permitted on campus. Returning students who have not met the requirement will be referred to Community Standards.
We continue to follow CDC and VDH guidance on masking and maintained a mask-optional policy on campus this summer. This policy will remain in place in the fall, and we will assess whether to make any changes as the public health landscape evolves. We ask that all members of our community respect the choices of others about whether or not to wear masks, and consider the CDC Community Level and associated guidance when making decisions around mask use.
Following are guidelines for the Middlebury College campus:
- Faculty will have the option to require masks in the classroom, labs, studios, and offices.
- Individuals notified of recent confirmed or suspected exposure to an infected person should wear a mask for 10 days around others when indoors in public and should receive testing within five days after exposure (or sooner, if they are symptomatic), regardless of their vaccination status.
- Per CDC and VDH guidance, students in isolation due to a positive test result must wear masks when they are picking up meals at the dining halls or walking to and from bathrooms. These individuals must wear masks at all times when around others through day 10 of their recovery, or follow new CDC guidance for using consecutive antigen tests to remove your mask sooner.
- Some departments and offices, such as Health Services, require masks. These departments typically post signs at entry points to inform visitors of the policy. Signs may be downloaded from this page.
- All members of the community are encouraged to carry masks with them at all times.
The College will continue to provide masks at the circulation desk at the Davis Family Library and at Human Resources in the Marble Works.
Prearrival PCR testing for individuals who have not had an infection in the past 90 days is recommended but not required for students returning to campus.
Middlebury will continue to offer antigen tests for students and employees at the circulation desk at the Davis Family Library, dining hall check-in, and at Human Resources in Marble Works. PCR testing will also be available and is recommended for symptomatic individuals who have a negative antigen test––to confirm that the antigen test was truly negative. Employees should still consult with their health care provider if they are symptomatic and in need of PCR testing. PCR testing schedules will be available on the COVID-19 testing website.
Isolation Protocols for Those Who Test Positive
The CDC and VDH currently recommend isolation of individuals with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases for at least five days after a positive test or the onset of symptoms. We will continue to require isolation for those who test positive. Most students will be able to recover in their rooms. This could include recovery with roommates who have not tested positive for COVID-19, with the assumption that these individuals already have been exposed. Students will have the option to recover at home or in another safe place off campus with Health Services approval. A small amount of housing will be dedicated for isolation.
How to Stay Up-to-Date
We appreciate your attention to these updates and the many details we have provided in this email. We will continue to monitor conditions and post any changes to our guidelines on the Campus Status page. We ask that you check it regularly for the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 protocols. We will send additional updates via email as needed. Please send any questions to COVIDinfo@middlebury.edu.
Chief Health Officer and College Physician
Vice President for Student Affairs