IMPORTANT: Winter Term Schedule Change and Protocols
| by Jeff Cason, Mark Peluso, (240) David Provost, and Smita Ruzicka
Dear Middlebury Community,
We are writing with an important update and essential information for winter term, including a revised academic schedule and enhanced health and safety requirements as we continue to plan for in-person experiences on campus.
- In this email we will address:
- Important Dates and Schedule Changes
- Classes Online at Start of Term
- COVID-19 Booster Requirement
- Prearrival, Arrival Testing for Students
- Required Testing for Students
- Testing for Student-Facing Faculty and Staff
- Isolation and Quarantine Plan
- Planning Ahead
- Dining Operations
- Health and Safety Expectations
During the past several days, we have closely followed the emergence of the Omicron variant and its rapid spread in the United States. The situation is dynamic, but we remain steadfast in our commitment to providing the best possible student experience, with as much in-person instruction and as many activities as possible.
We have discussed current guidance with Vermont Department of Health officials and have consulted with our higher education peers, as well as our own experts. Based on these conversations and plans, we have decided to take additional steps to manage the pandemic on our campus for winter term. These new policies and protocols are outlined below, and we encourage you to review them carefully as you prepare to return to campus. As always, we are prepared to shift our plans as conditions evolve, and we will keep you informed about any necessary changes. We appreciate your flexibility once again as we work together in this rapidly changing environment.
Important Dates and Schedule Changes
To allow much-needed time for our staff and faculty to plan and prepare effectively for the return of students to campus, we have decided to delay the start of winter term until January 10. We also will extend the winter term by one day to February 4. We know that these changes will require some faculty, students, and staff to change travel plans and make additional preparations, and we thank you for working with us as we manage these changed circumstances. Students designated as high need by Student Financial Services will receive a separate message regarding financial assistance with added travel costs resulting from this date change.
Arrivals will be permitted on January 8 and 9. Early arrivals that have not already been approved will not be permitted.
The schedule for student athletes and artists who are approved to arrive on campus early for practice and competition (and all related testing protocols) will remain unchanged. Student athletes will receive separate information from their coaches regarding arrival and testing protocols including proof of a negative pre-arrival PCR test.
Classes Online at Start of Term
For at least the first two days of the term (January 10-11), classes will be conducted online. After results from PCR arrival tests are in, we expect most classes will shift to in-person formats. We know that this will require adjustments to pedagogy on the part of faculty, and thank them in advance for accommodating this change and for the additional preparation this will require.
COVID-19 Booster Requirement
As previously announced, Middlebury requires all students, faculty, and staff who are eligible to receive COVID-19 booster shots by February 14, 2022, unless they have an approved medical or religious exemption.* All eligible students participating in winter term are strongly encouraged to secure booster shots as soon as possible, to ensure that as many students as possible have the fullest protection available to them. Please keep in mind that it takes up to two weeks for boosters to be fully effective. Those who are unable to secure a booster shot before arrival must schedule an appointment for their booster vaccine in Vermont, as close to their arrival date as possible. Students who received their COVID-19 vaccine in Vermont can schedule a booster shot on the Vermont Department of Health website. Eligible students who did not receive their vaccine in Vermont must schedule an appointment by calling the Health Department at 855-722-7878. Students who have already been boosted must upload documentation to their student health portal. Anyone who is not eligible before arrival will be expected to receive a booster within two weeks after eligibility. Previously approved exemptions apply.
Eligible faculty and staff are also strongly encouraged to get a booster shot as soon as possible, if they have not done so already.
We are planning to provide booster clinic opportunities in early January. Information about how to upload proof of your booster shot is available here.
Prearrival, Arrival Testing for Students
All students arriving for winter term must check in at the Arrival Center at Virtue Field House in order to access campus resources with their ID card including residence and dining halls. All students will be required to present documentation of a negative PCR/NAAT COVID-19 test taken within three days of arrival when they report to the testing center. In addition to prearrival testing, all students will be tested at Virtue Field House on the day of their arrival, Day 0, and again between Days 5 and 7 after arrival. Students will receive a separate message with more detailed instructions and testing requirements.
Required Testing for Students
COVID-19 testing will be required twice each week for all students during the first couple of weeks of the term and possibly during the entire term. Failure to comply with this testing policy is a serious violation of Middlebury community standards and violations will be referred to the office of community standards. Repeated non-compliance may result in dismissal from campus housing.
Testing for Student-Facing Faculty and Staff
Middlebury will offer on-campus testing for staff and faculty who are scheduled to work on campus and regularly interact with students during the winter term. We will provide more information to those employees in early January.
Isolation and Quarantine Plan
While COVID-19 cases are anticipated to rise sharply with the continued spread of Omicron, health officials including Vermont Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine have said that case numbers should be interpreted differently at this stage in the pandemic. Early indications are that fully vaccinated and boosted individuals without underlying high-risk health conditions are less likely to experience severe symptoms of COVID-19.
It is important to remember that our community is in a much different place than we were a year ago. With a highly vaccinated campus, our indoor masking requirements, and other health and safety measures in place, we are prepared to respond to a higher number of positive and likely mild cases on campus. At the same time, we know that we must plan for all possible scenarios, including the likelihood that we could quickly exhaust our ability to individually isolate students who test positive for COVID-19 on our campus. For this reason, we require that any student who tests positive and is able to safely complete their isolation period off campus do so. In addition, students who are able to isolate in their rooms may be asked to do so if the number of low-risk students who test positive exceeds isolation housing capacity. While we expect most cases to be mild or even asymptomatic (as was the case this semester), the possibilities of high case counts and isolation in place are important factors for students and families to remember as they plan for winter term. These new scenarios are part of a new reality of living with the next stage of the pandemic.
In preparation for returning to campus, students should do the following:
- Review and update their illness, isolation, and evacuation plans.
- Bring with them supplies to care for themselves if they get sick (with COVID-19 or other seasonal illnesses).
- Have a plan to isolate off campus in a safe location within driving distance if possible.
- Make sure that their evacuation plans and emergency contacts are up to date in Banner in the unlikely event that illness severity increases to the point that a campus evacuation becomes necessary.
We know that each student and their family must make their own choices about the benefits of the campus experience, and their own personal comfort with the risks presented by the Omicron variant. Unvaccinated and/or immunocompromised students should consult with their medical provider and think carefully about whether the campus living environment is appropriate at this time. Students who wish to change their plans and forego the upcoming winter term may do so by registering to opt out of winter term. Information on how to do that can be found here.
We will start the winter term with grab-and-go dining service. We will return to more normal operations in dining halls as conditions allow.
Health and Safety Expectations
Given the high transmissibility and breakthrough infections of the Omicron variant, we anticipate that the health and safety expectations presented on the campus status webpage will change for winter term. For example, we expect significant limitations on group gathering sizes, travel outside of Addison County, and visitors and guests to campus. Students are encouraged to take advantage of the many recreation opportunities on and near campus, including the Snow Bowl and Rikert Nordic Center. Specific health and safety expectations will depend on circumstances. Students who have plans for travel, internships outside of the county, or other commitments that could be restricted by limitations defined by the campus status webpage should consider forgoing winter term. Non-compliance with these health and safety expectations may be considered a policy violation. In addition, because our high vaccination status and case experience here and at other colleges leads to an expectation of predominantly mild to moderate illness for most, our focus will be on severity of cases, preserving hospital capacity, and protecting the vulnerable, rather than on case counts, which may be high with Omicron.
While we are hoping that the delayed start will provide much needed respite and space to plan, we are sure many of you have questions and concerns. With all of you, we look forward to observing the winter holiday break so that we can turn our attention fully and energetically to winter term matters in the new year. We will be available to answer your questions on January 3.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for your partnership as we continue to live, work, and learn in the midst of the pandemic–managing both the expected and unexpected. We look forward to being together again soon on campus and will provide more updates after the much-needed winter break. Because of your creativity and resilience, in the past two years we have found a way forward to meet our mission of exceptional in-person education. Partnering together to meet this new COVID-19 challenge, we can move forward in the new year.
Chief Health Officer and College Physician
Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration
Vice President for Student Affairs
*An update with the addition of the date of the booster requirement was added to this announcement December 22, 2021.