Spring planning, visitor policy, booster deadline
Dear Middlebury Community,
This week, we’ll cover the following:
- Spring Preview of Changes to Testing, Contact Tracing
- Adding Home Testing to our Mitigation Strategies
- The Future of Contact Tracing
- State of the State
- Booster Requirement Deadline
- Visitor Policy Updates
- Dining Updates: The Grille
Spring Preview of Changes to Testing, Contact Tracing
Looking ahead to the spring semester and beyond, we anticipate an evolution in how we live with and through the pandemic, starting with how we manage testing and contact tracing. This shift is in line with the evolving strategies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Vermont Department of Health, which are moving away from pandemic response and toward endemic management, or to a time when the COVID-19 virus persists but presents a much smaller risk to our community. Vaccination and boosters remain the best way to protect our community from the worst effects of the virus and allow us to focus our attention on protecting and treating the most at-risk individuals. This approach also moves us closer to pre-pandemic operations, even as we prepare to adjust as circumstances evolve. Following is an overview of changes that will be implemented after spring semester arrival testing has been completed, likely in mid-February.
Adding Home Testing to our Mitigation Strategies
The highly transmissible, yet less severe, Omicron variant, combined with the increased availability of home test kits, has resulted in new approaches to COVID-19 testing. PCR surveillance testing is no longer considered an effective or efficient testing strategy for assessing COVID-19 prevalence on campus. Primarily, PCR test turnaround times can exceed Omicron’s incubation period and may not detect all infections in a timely manner. PCR tests also can be sporadically positive up to 90 days after an infection. Thus, individuals who are unaware of a previous COVID-19 infection and then test positive much later would have to isolate unnecessarily, creating disruptions to their work or education.
This does not mean we will discontinue PCR testing on campus, but it does mean we expect it to play a different role in our overall approach to testing as the spring semester progresses.
We have ordered a supply of rapid antigen test kits and are developing a policy for their distribution and best uses. We will announce those details in a future update. Our goal is to make the various forms of testing available to our community.
The Future of Contact Tracing
Public health agencies, including the Vermont Department of Health, and public schools, are transitioning away from contact tracing for individual cases of COVID-19. Middlebury will similarly begin to de-emphasize individual contact tracing among members of our campus community.
As rapid antigen self-testing becomes more common, our community will depend on individuals who test positive to notify close contacts of their exposure. The Vermont Department of Health has detailed instructions for self-isolation and notifying close contacts as soon as an individual receives a positive test result. The CDC and Vermont Department of Health also provide instructions for what to do if you learn that you are a close contact.
With these new developments, there is also promising news for those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, including those who are unable to be vaccinated. Effective new medications to both prevent and treat Omicron infection for unvaccinated and high-risk individuals are available in Vermont. These include the antiviral Paxlovid, the monoclonal antibody infusion Sotrovimab, and the long-acting monoclonal treatment Evusheld. Individuals should contact their healthcare providers to learn more about these options.
State of the State
State officials at the governor’s weekly press conference noted that cases of COVID-19 dropped by 50 percent in Vermont and by 44 percent in New England during the past two weeks. This is an encouraging trend that indicates the Omicron variant has likely peaked, and we are getting closer to an endemic state. Officials also reported that, due to Vermont’s high vaccination rate and the less severe effects of Omicron, the state’s healthcare system was not pushed beyond its capacity at any time during the surge. PCR testing also has declined, likely due to both fewer infections and the increased use of rapid antigen tests. They anticipate cases will continue to decline in the state over the next several weeks.
Vermont Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine cited a new CDC study that confirms the efficacy of vaccines and boosters for full protection and the recent FDA approval of the Moderna vaccine for those ages 18 and older. He noted that we are entering a “new phase of living with the virus,” where COVID-19 will be present but will present a health risk similar to the flu. This change will allow public health officials to shift their focus to protecting against the worst outcomes. Levine noted that, as we move to an endemic state, metrics such as case counts and positivity rates will be less meaningful, and simple preventive measures and personal responsibility will be the priority.
It is important to state here that our move to endemic management will be a transition made over several weeks and months, and based on the science, CDC, and VDH guidance. In addition, transitioning to “endemic” does not mean that we will not take precautions. Rather, it means that, because a disease is regularly found in a certain area and must be constantly managed, we must turn to newer and more effective forms of addressing the challenges the disease presents and protecting the vulnerable.
Booster Requirement Deadline
A key part of our strategy is maintaining full protection for our community through vaccination and boosters. Middlebury requires that all eligible faculty, staff, and students receive a COVID-19 vaccination booster, or have an approved medical or religious exemption, by Monday, February 14. Students must upload their updated vaccination record via the student health portal. Employees must upload booster documentation via the SentryMD portal, and will receive confirmation of the upload after doing so. Any member of the campus community who is not yet eligible and does not have an approved exemption must receive a booster within 14 days of becoming eligible and then upload their documentation.
Employees with questions regarding the booster requirement and how to upload their records should contact Human Resources.
Visitor Policy Updates
Consistent with our strategy of moving toward increasingly normal operations, we have updated the Visitor Policy to allow visitors to attend approved campus events and programs. All other visitors, including vendors, contractors, or service providers, are allowed on campus only with departmental permission. Visitors must be fully vaccinated, and those who are eligible must have received their booster shot, unless they have a valid medical or religious exemption. Visitors should be prepared to show proof of vaccination and their booster shot or certify that they have a valid medical or religious exemption. Visitors must not come to campus if they test positive for COVID-19, they are experiencing COVID-like symptoms, or, in certain instances, they have been exposed to COVID-19. Please see the Visitor Policy for additional details regarding when visitors in any of the above categories can come to campus. For details on the visitor policy, visit the Campus Status page.
Dining Updates: The Grille
On February 7, the Grille will resume more normal retail operations during lunch. Students may purchase meals by cash or credit card or by using their declining balance. As of February 7, faculty and staff may purchase to-go meals only. Our plan is to open the Grille for full campus-community dining over the next few weeks.
As we approach this time of transition—both in the academic year and in how we respond to COVID-19—we thank you for your commitment to working together as a community. We will share more details about our plans in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you have questions please email email@example.com.
Chief Health Officer and College Physician
Vice President for Student Affairs