Dear Middlebury Community,
In this email we will address the following:
- Our Evolving Approach to the Pandemic
- State of the State
- Booster Policy Compliance
- Moving Forward at Middlebury
- Student Testing Next Week
- Employee Testing
Our Evolving Approach to the Pandemic
We continue to closely watch trends in the pandemic as we develop our approach for the spring semester and beyond. In recent days, public health officials have reported steady declines in the number of new cases in Vermont and the United States, along with drops in the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. Omicron remains the predominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, and although it is more transmissible, its effects are more mild than prior variants, especially among those who are fully vaccinated and boosted. We are monitoring developments of other variants very closely, including the Omicron BA.2 variant, and for now there are no new variants of global concern. Individuals who cannot receive vaccinations and those with high-risk health conditions have better testing, treatments, and masking strategies available to them.
Public health officials are adjusting their recommendations and guidance in response to the changing landscape, and we are making similar plans at Middlebury. Our priority remains protecting the most vulnerable in our community as we refine our strategies and make the best use of our resources. Our campus now has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country and is in one of the most vaccinated states in the country, making it a safe place to live, work, and learn. We continue to have a steady number of cases of COVID-19 among students and employees, but most are experiencing mild symptoms. Our approach to managing the pandemic must evolve with the virus while considering all health consequences to individuals and our community.
State of the State
State officials at the governor’s weekly press conference reported that cases of COVID-19 declined by 23 percent in Vermont and by 29 percent in the Northeast over the past week. Cases in Addison County have decreased by 52 percent during that time. Testing also has decreased, along with the number of hospitalizations and deaths. The rate of positivity in Vermont fell to 6.7 percent, across all age groups.
All of this indicates that the Omicron wave is receding, and the state is changing its approach in response, starting with secondary schools. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine noted that we are nearing a time when we can coexist with the virus, with a high level of immunity from vaccination and past infections. The state already has moved away from surveillance testing and contact tracing in schools. Starting February 28, the state will remove mask recommendations for schools with high vaccination rates. The state also is distributing antigen tests to staff as part of a voluntary testing program.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reviewing its guidance for masks in indoor public spaces and continues to stress that vaccination and boosters provide the best protection against the virus.
Booster Policy Compliance
We are pleased to report that as of today, approximately 97 percent of employees and 90 percent of students are in compliance with our vaccination and booster requirements. We expect that we will be close to full compliance by next week as reminders are sent to students and employees.
We will offer a Pfizer and Moderna booster clinic on Wednesday, February 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Goldsmith Lounge at Virtue Field House (Room 298). Walk-ins are welcome. Students and employees may sign up for an appointment through Bookings and contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
The Vermont Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccine website has information on other local clinics. Please note that the clinic at 55 Middle Road in Middlebury accepts walk-ins from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. on Saturdays.
As a reminder, Middlebury requires that all eligible faculty, staff, and students receive a COVID-19 vaccination booster, or have an approved medical or religious exemption. 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 two business days 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.
Moving Forward at Middlebury
At Middlebury, we continue to move toward living with this virus, with less focus on prescriptive policies and more attention on personal and community responsibility. This means that in the coming weeks, we will shift from surveillance PCR testing to a combination of PCR testing and antigen testing. Our plan is to distribute antigen tests to students for use primarily when they are symptomatic. We will continue PCR testing for close contacts, to confirm the results of negative antigen tests in symptomatic students, for testing before and after travel, and for athletics competitions as required. We also will offer PCR testing for employees and students who want to get a PCR test. Many students and employees already are using antigen tests and reporting the results to us. This would simply formalize that process and allow us to more quickly identify and treat those who are symptomatic and test positive. The Vermont Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer more information about the differences between PCR and antigen tests.
We also will ask members of our community living or working on campus to report their results to us. We will provide instructions related to isolation, contact tracing, and other guidance related to their positive result. This will streamline the process and allow us to direct higher risk individuals toward early treatment.
We are in a much different place than we were a year ago before vaccinations were widely available, and even three months ago when Omicron emerged. We must adjust, as we always have, to less pandemic management and move more toward coexisting with the virus and returning to a more normal college experience once it is reasonable to do so.
Student Testing Next Week
We will continue required PCR testing next week for all students except those who are exempt because they have recovered from COVID-19 within the past 90 days. Students must sign up for appointments using the student testing link. We will offer additional appointments for optional testing on both days, including for those identified as close contacts, as capacity allows.
More information about antigen testing will be shared in a future update.
On-campus employees who are not experiencing symptoms may sign up for testing on campus on Monday, February 21, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., using the employee testing link. Close contacts of cases within our community will be able to schedule testing appointments on days that we offer asymptomatic testing to students. Employees who are symptomatic must secure testing through their healthcare provider, the Vermont Department of Health, or a local pharmacy.
Thank you, once again, for your partnership as we make this transition. It bears repeating that we must navigate this time of change with empathy, compassion, patience, and care for the most vulnerable. If you have additional questions, please email email@example.com.
Chief Health Officer and College Physician
Vice President for Student Affairs