Fall Semester Planning, Vaccines, and COVID-19 Testing Program
| by Laurie Patton, Derek Doucet, and Mark Peluso
Faculty, Vaccination Information, Staff, Students, Spring 2021, Summer 2021, Fall 2021
Dear Middlebury Community,
We are writing with some important updates about the fall 2021 semester, COVID-19 testing, vaccine eligibility and requirements––and a few notes about summer programs.
In this email we will address the following:
- Fall 2021 Planning
- Staying the Course
- Testing Program
- Travel and No-Visitor Policies
- Summer Programs
- A Note of Thanks
Fall 2021 Planning
As we pass the one-year mark of living with and through the COVID-19 pandemic, we are happy to share that we intend to return to as many in-person living and learning experiences as possible in the coming semester. We plan to offer the vast majority of classes in person, and to return to near-normal campus activities and operations as much as we can. We do not have all of the details set, but we are encouraged by the news about vaccine availability in Vermont and the United States and wanted to share this information with you so that you may meaningfully begin your own planning.
We have learned much about our own versatility, adaptability, and resilience in the past year, and we don’t want to miss the opportunity to put those experiences into practice. Our faculty and staff already have begun to evaluate which aspects of our academic and cocurricular activities are best offered in person and which are better online. We also know that some students may not be able to return to campus due to health concerns or international travel restrictions, and we are prepared to provide opportunities for those students to continue to engage remotely. Our top priority is to provide a meaningful and engaging experience for our students in a way that promotes health and safety for all.
Staying the Course
We are, to be sure, cautiously optimistic about predictions that the pandemic could subside as soon as this summer––if we all stay the course. We expect that by the start of the fall semester, all faculty, staff, and students returning to campus will be vaccinated, except those who have a religious or medical exemption. This is to provide the best possible protection for our entire community.
We also recognize that the pandemic is unpredictable, and we are closely monitoring news about variants of the COVID-19 virus that are more contagious and new outbreaks in Europe, Brazil, and other parts of the world––all at a time when some states are relaxing restrictions. Indeed, in many areas, there are severe lockdowns just as the vaccine is rolling out. There are many reasons to be hopeful, but we are not in a post-pandemic world yet. We must be vigilant in continuing our multilayered approach, including the practices of wearing face coverings, physical distancing, and hand hygiene, for the remainder of spring and summer terms, regardless of vaccination status.
The number of cases in Vermont and Addison County continues to fluctuate, and case counts overall are higher than last summer and fall. We continue to identify a small number of positive cases and contact exposures each week on campus. While they remain few in number, more of those individuals who test positive are exhibiting symptoms of the virus. We have not had any major outbreaks to date, but we know from the experiences of other colleges that things could change at any time. Therefore, we do not plan to greatly shift operations during the spring semester, but as always we will make adjustments based on conditions. The latest guidelines will be published on the Campus Status web page.
Faculty and staff are invited to join us Friday, March 26, 3–4 p.m., for our next informational webinar and health and safety update with Staff Council, Chief Health Officer and College Physician Mark Peluso, and Director of Environmental Health and Safety Jen Kazmierczak. Students are invited to weekly office hours with Dean of Students Derek Doucet, Mark Peluso, and Jen Kazmierczak every Friday.
We have increased the frequency of testing on campus this semester in response to a higher prevalence of the virus on and off campus. We will decrease testing frequency if health conditions in Addison County and student behavior on campus allow. Students should stay informed about testing requirements by checking the Campus Status web page and the student testing schedule.
Decisions about our targeted dynamic testing program—including how often employees and students are tested—will be based on the latest health and safety conditions.
So far, our arts and club sports communities have been able to increase their activities without additional testing protocols. We will continue to monitor those conditions. With our return to highly limited NESCAC and other athletic competitions in early April, athletes who participate in athletic competitions will be tested according to state and NESCAC rules at least three times each week and on game days. We are still working out details, but all players will receive an antigen test prior to competition, and if any are positive, those individuals will receive a follow-up PCR test. Unfortunately, any positive antigen test results on a given team will result in an immediate cancellation of that day’s game, even if a follow-up test is negative. Contact tracing will begin immediately after any positive antigen test. Quarantine requirements will depend on whether test results are confirmed to be positive or negative by a follow-up PCR test.
As a reminder, students who are invited to testing are required to make and keep their testing appointments. Failure to do so will result in referrals to our conduct process with penalties up to and including ineligibility to compete and/or removal from campus. Please check the testing schedule page for the most current information.
Governor Phil Scott recently announced a schedule for vaccine eligibility that sets a course for all Vermonters age 16 or older to become eligible for vaccines by April 19, and all to be fully vaccinated by July. This is great news. The governor noted that typically it takes two weeks to get an appointment once eligible, and depending on which vaccine people receive it may be two months before they are fully vaccinated. This timeline also will depend on federal supply allocations and on eligible groups securing appointments.
College students who meet eligibility requirements can register for the vaccine and can use their College address to show Vermont residency. Currently, individuals age 16 and older who have certain high-risk health conditions are eligible for the vaccine. For individuals who do not have qualifying health conditions, eligibility is based on age. Additional information about vaccine registration is available here.
It is our hope and preference that we will be able to offer vaccinations on campus this spring, for students and employees, rather than their seeking appointments in the statewide system. This may depend on vaccine supply, demand, appointment availability, and other factors. We are in regular communication with state and local health officials about this, and we will provide more information about any opportunities as soon as it becomes available.
While our expectation is that all faculty, staff, and students will be vaccinated at the appropriate time, being vaccinated this spring does not mean that employees should return to work if they have been working remotely. Those working on campus must continue to follow their department’s workplace staffing and safety plans. Any decisions about returning to work will be based on operational needs, and all of our health and safety protocols will remain in place until a higher percentage of people are vaccinated. As we plan for a potential return to the workplace and reflect on our experiences during the pandemic, department leaders will examine operational priorities while considering opportunities for flexible approaches to work.
We continue planning for a hybrid of remote and in-person summer programs. As previously announced, our Bread Loaf programs will be conducted remotely, and Language Schools will be split between in-person and online formats. Unfortunately, we also have had to cancel our School of the Environment program in China.
Travel and No-Visitor Policies Continue
Due to continuing travel advisories throughout the world, and state and federal restrictions, Middlebury-sponsored international travel for faculty, staff, and students has been suspended through the summer. Depending on public health conditions on campus and beyond, it may be possible to allow limited exceptions to this restriction on a case-by-case basis, such as for grant-supported travel for faculty and staff, with approval from the appropriate vice president.
Students who apply for and receive Middlebury funding from offices including the Center for Careers and Internships, Undergraduate Research Office, and Center for Community Engagement for internships, research, community service, and other experiential opportunities may travel during the summer break within the United States. International students who receive such funding may travel only within the United States or their country of residence. All students must comply with applicable Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state, local, country of residence, and College-related COVID-19 health and safety restrictions.
For the latest updates on this evolving situation, please see the Campus Status web page and the travel and transportation page.
At this time, we are not able to allow prospective students to visit or tour campus, but we do hope that we will be able to change that policy sometime in the coming months. We encourage prospective students to connect with Admissions and participate in our virtual offerings.
A Note of Thanks
Finally, we would like to extend our gratitude to all of you for everything you have done throughout this year to reimagine Middlebury in response to these difficult conditions. COVID-19 fatigue is real, and none of this has been easy. What many of us thought might be a temporary shift for a period of weeks has become a new way of learning and working that is both challenging and rewarding. We are grateful that we have been able to bring our students back to campus. There is energy and excitement when our students are with us! For that very reason we look forward to expanding activities and in-person experiences before too long.
Dean of Students
Chief Health Officer and College Physician