Dear Middlebury Community,
In this email, we will address the following topics:
- Trends on Campus
- National and International Trends
- State of the State
- New Vermont Recommendations
- Mask Optional Policy Effective at 3 p.m. Friday
- Free Antigen and LAMP Tests at State Sites
- Antigen Tests for Students and Employees
- PCR Testing on Campus
- COVID-19 Testing and Reporting Instructions
- Contact Tracing
- The Latest on Boosters
- COVID Skills Series in Campus Well and Health Coaching for Students
- Spring Break
Trends on Campus
With the move to widespread antigen testing and away from mandatory testing for students, a smaller number of students and employees participated in PCR testing on campus this week. Since we began distribution of antigen tests on campus two weeks ago, the number of reported positive antigen tests has surpassed the number of cases identified by PCR testing. Reported antigen tests had already increased before this time, consistent with national trends and recommendations that symptomatic individuals opt for antigen testing over PCR testing for more timely results.
National and International Trends
While China and other countries are reporting new surges of COVID-19, in the United States the numbers of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19 continue to decline. Public health officials are monitoring for new variants of concern, but with effective vaccines and boosters, access to treatments before and after infections, and ample testing, we are now at a time when we can take a break from some of the strict measures still in place in other parts of the world. We will do this with continued attention to any changes on the horizon and with a focus on protecting those who are most vulnerable.
We ask that all members of our community show compassion to those who must miss work, class, or campus activities due to a positive test, knowing that each person responds differently to the virus. We also ask that you respect individual choices about ongoing precautions as we move through this time of transition.
State of the State
Governor Phil Scott at the state’s weekly press briefing noted that Vermont is moving closer to endemic management––nearly two years to the day after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the state. This shift is possible because of highly effective vaccines and boosters, easy access to testing, and the availability of treatments. Officials said their current approach seeks a balance between vigilance and fewer disruptions to everyday life, in support of physical and mental health.
New Vermont Recommendations
The state on Monday, March 14, removed the recommendation for masks in public indoor spaces, and also changed testing and quarantine requirements for those exposed to COVID-19. The new recommendations are explained in this Vermont Department of Health announcement and in new guidance on what to do if you are a close contact. We are reviewing this guidance and will share more information once it becomes available.
Mask Optional Policy Effective at 3 p.m. Friday
As previously announced, Middlebury College will move to a mask optional policy for many parts of campus starting at 3 p.m. Friday, the start of spring break. Masks will still be required in classrooms in order to minimize disruptions in class planning. Masks also are required for students in isolation due to a positive result when they are picking up meals at the dining hall or walking to and from the bathroom. These individuals must continue to wear a mask at all times when with others inside and outside for five additional days after they complete their isolation period. (See also instructions for COVID-positive students and employees.)
Individual departments will have the discretion to require masks, and masks are welcome and encouraged for anyone else who wishes to continue to wear one. Those who would like to display signs about mask preferences may download them for printing.
We ask again that community members exercise kindness, compassion, and patience for others in support of their personal choices and health needs. 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.
Free Antigen and LAMP Tests at State Sites
Earlier this week, the state of Vermont began offering appointments to pick up free antigen and LAMP (similar to PCR) tests for home use as a way of delivering results more quickly to those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. The state continues to offer PCR testing. More information about how to make an appointment and when to take the various types of tests is available on the state’s COVID-19 testing website.
Antigen Tests for Students and Employees
We continue distribution of antigen tests for students and employees on campus as follows:
- Antigen tests are available for pickup in the dining halls at check-in, at the Virtue PCR testing center, at the Davis Family Library circulation desk, and at Health Services.
- Please note that we continue antigen test distribution for spring break travel but will not require prearrival or arrival testing before or after spring break.
Antigen test kits and N-95 and KN-95 masks are 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. The kits contain two tests each. We ask that employees take just one box at a time.
PCR Testing on Campus
We paused required weekly mandatory PCR testing for students on Monday, March 14, and now recommend antigen testing for symptomatic individuals. We continue to offer PCR testing for students and employees who need exposure-related testing or testing for other purposes such as travel. See Instructions for Those Exposed, Symptomatic, or Who Have Tested Positive for COVID-19.
The full testing schedule and links for employees and students to sign up are available on the COVID-19 Testing page. Note that employees who are symptomatic may use a home antigen test kit and/or arrange testing through their healthcare provider, the Vermont Department of Health, or a local pharmacy.
COVID-19 Testing and Reporting Instructions
We have revised and streamlined our COVID-19 Testing and Reporting Instructions to reflect the latest guidance and ask that you review this information so you are familiar with the procedures and requirements ahead of time. The page includes information about the type of COVID-19 test to use and forms for students and employees to report positive test results.
As a reminder, 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 notifications. 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 a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period. The state has updated its guidance for individuals who are considered close contacts.
The Latest on Boosters
We received some questions after Pfizer announced this week it would seek approval to authorize a fourth dose of its COVID-19 vaccine for those over 65 years old. The CDC has released a new recommendation for people ages 12 years and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised to receive a total of four doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The four doses comprise a primary series of three doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, plus one booster of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
COVID Skills Series in Campus Well and Health Coaching for Students
Students are encouraged to read the ongoing COVID Skills Series in Campus Well. The article this week focuses on navigating emotions around ongoing changes of COVID-19 protocols. Students interested in making a personal plan for COVID-19 safety, including creating and expressing boundaries to peers, are welcome to schedule a health coaching appointment with a health educator by visiting go/askhwe.
We wish all of you a restful and restorative spring break. Should you have questions, please write to COVIDInfo@middlebury.edu. As always, you can find the latest information on the Campus Status page.
Chief Health Officer and College Physician
Vice President for Student Affairs