As the first group of students return to campus this week and help remind us all of our shared educational mission, we write to provide you with an update on our preparations for returning to the campus workplace.
Following Vermont governor Phil Scott’s recent order, we will maintain remote work to the greatest extent possible during the fall semester. All departments have completed their fall work plans identifying what work, if any, needs to be done on campus. Individuals returning to campus have consulted with Jen Kazmierczak, our environmental health and safety coordinator, to complete an exposure control plan with the appropriate protocols and measures to ensure a safe workplace. Our return-to-campus preparations include installation of physical barriers in areas with direct face-to-face interactions to establish appropriate spacing for physical distancing, as well as targeted dynamic testing and requirements for all employees to wear cloth face coverings to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
If you are scheduled to work on campus, you should restrict your presence to your workspace. No other parts of the campus—the outdoor track, the grounds, etc.—are to be used during our campus quarantine. This is necessary to ensure the health and safety of our larger community.
COVID-19 Response Team
Given the nature of their job responsibilities, there are some employees who may be at higher risk for exposure. We will be taking extra precautions for those individuals. We have named a COVID-19 Response Team (CRT), which includes those who need to interact with students directly when they are in isolation spaces in order to provide medical care or emergency response, or to clean those spaces. These individuals have received special training in the necessary protocols and use of the highest-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) to handle these situations safely.
Because CRT members face a higher risk than others returning to work on campus, and in recognition of their being on call to provide response services, they will be compensated with a biweekly stipend through Thanksgiving, when students return home for the remainder of the semester and winter break. In addition, we will give each member a supplemental amount of $25 for each incident they respond to over the course of the semester. The accumulated total of these payments will be paid in the December 18 paycheck.
COVID-19 Paid Leave
One of our guiding protocols to ensure the safety of the entire campus community is to stay home if you are sick. This is one of the ways that we can support one another in creating a safe work environment. As part of this effort, we will provide paid leave to anyone who becomes ill and must isolate at home, as well as to those who may have been exposed and are asked to quarantine by the state Department of Health or by the College. In addition, we will provide paid leave for up to seven calendar days to individuals who are sick or show other symptoms of the virus. After three days, any individual who is ill must contact Patty Saunders, our benefits specialist for disability and leave, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-443-5338 to discuss FMLA leave options.
In addition to testing students twice upon their arrival to maximize the health and safety of our shared residential spaces, employees working on campus will be the focus of our targeted dynamic testing program during the week of September 7. We expect to conduct weekly targeted dynamic testing of asymptomatic students and employees who are on campus through the fall semester, focusing on employees working in higher-risk roles and/or engaging in higher-risk activities. We plan to complete about 750 tests per week, with the ability to increase or decrease testing depending on local health conditions. At this time, neither the Vermont Department of Health nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending additional testing of employees who have been living in Vermont or upstate New York.
Given that Vermont has maintained a low rate of positive tests—about 2 percent—since March when testing began, Porter Hospital announced on August 7 that it would begin scaling back its testing of asymptomatic patients. The hospital shared with us that after testing more than 5,000 asymptomatic individuals throughout the UVM network, only about 0.1 percent of those in that group received positive tests. There is therefore an extremely low likelihood that Vermont residents, or our employees from New York counties with low incidence of the virus, will have been exposed to the virus.
It is important to note that when we begin testing healthy, asymptomatic individuals, even with a test that is 99 percent accurate—as is the case with the PCR test used by our testing partner, the Broad Institute—we expect to have some false positives. Anyone receiving a positive test, whether it appears to be a false positive or not, must be isolated, and contacts must be traced and quarantined. Please note also that CDC guidelines recommend that people who test positive not be retested within 90 days. They would therefore be excluded from subsequent dynamic testing and could still contract or transmit the virus. Vermont’s containment of COVID-19 is due less to widespread testing than to our high rate of compliance with the public health recommendations of distancing, face coverings, and hand hygiene. It is essential to sustain these practices.
As you may know, we have conducted extensive outreach to educate students about these core practices and have established new conduct requirements for students when on or off campus this fall as well as for students living off-campus. In addition to the Return to Campus Guide, arriving students are using the PolicyPath app and have been required to complete several hours of training in preventing the spread of COVID-19. We are all in this together, and we know that following the public health recommendations is the best way to contain this virus.
Thank you for reading through these updates. Please do not hesitate to reach out should you have any questions.
Vice President for Human Resources and Chief Risk Officer
Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration