Dear Middlebury Community,
We are writing with some additional information about winter term, following our December 22 community announcement and messages to students with essential January arrival details and reminders. We will be updating our website with this new information soon. We wanted to share this more detailed information to give you as accurate a picture as possible for what to expect for January term. Even given the uncertainty of the Omicron variant, which appears to be a milder and yet highly transmissible virus, Middlebury life will not be as restrictive as our in-person learning in 2020 and 2021 has been. For that very same reason, however, our winter term will not be a complete return to “Middlebury as usual.”
If any student is still weighing whether a return to campus is right for them, we ask that they consider all the factors below and come to campus with realistic expectations.
In this message, we provide as many details as we can about how we will manage COVID-19 on our campus, so that our community is prepared in advance and aware of our practices and protocols. We will address the following topics:
- What Will Life on Campus Look Like?
- Continued Rise in COVID-19 Cases
- Off-Campus and In-Room Recovery Strategies
- Face Covering Requirements
- Booster Requirement and Upcoming Clinics on Campus
- Prearrival and Arrival Testing
- Test Results Received through Email
- Availability of Antigen Tests
- Instructions for Students with Positive Antigen and PCR Tests before Arrival
- Instructions for Employees Who Test Positive
- COVID-19 Information Session for Employees
- Contact Tracing
- COVIDInfo Email
What Will Life on Campus Look Like?
First and foremost, while some campuses have chosen to go remote for some period of time in the winter, we remain committed to our mission of providing a transformative in-person experience for our students, and we will do everything we can to achieve this. The situation is dynamic, however, and we are adjusting our policies and procedures in response to the latest phase of the pandemic. We are doing so with the goal of providing the best possible experience for our students with as many in-person components as possible. This means that after the initial arrival period, our plan is to offer most classes in person with the flexibility to convert to remote formats when needed; students will be allowed to leave campus for academic and recreational activities with strict attention to COVID-19 protocols; and indoor dining and social activities will resume as soon as possible. Circumstances could change, of course, and we must be prepared to shift and adjust our plans at any time should this become necessary.
We will continue to update the Campus Status webpage with the latest guidelines. We also are updating the Campus Guide as new information becomes available.
Continued Rise in COVID-19 Cases
We continue to watch closely the latest developments with the Omicron variant and continued spread of the Delta variant, as we prepare for the return of most students to campus. We expect given current circumstances—with record cases throughout the United States and Vermont—that we will have a much higher incidence of COVID-19 on our campus and in our community in the winter and possibly in the spring.
We are already experiencing a higher incidence on our campus. For example, of the 350 students currently on campus, including those who stayed through the winter break or returned early for athletic competition, we have 18 active cases of COVID-19, even with required prearrival and arrival testing. While the number of student cases is much smaller than it was before the winter break, these numbers still represent more cases than we have typically managed during the entire pandemic. Other similar colleges, including those that required prearrival testing, have reported positivity rates as high as 10 percent among those tested in the first week after their return to campus. Many of the positive results occurred four or five days after arrival, after negative results on Day 0. If this same scenario were to play out at Middlebury, we might possibly identify more than 200 cases on our campus in the first couple of weeks of winter term. This is not a prediction, and we very much hope this will not be the case. However, it is one indicator of the circumstances we may face as we begin winter term. With all of this in mind, we are planning for some necessary adjustments to how we handle positive cases on campus. Like many other colleges, we will be focusing less on the number of cases and more on protecting the most vulnerable members of our community.
Off-Campus and In-Room Recovery Strategies
It’s important for students, families, and our entire community to know that, given the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, there is a strong probability that we will not be able to provide separate isolation housing for all students who test positive for COVID-19.
This means that, although we will have isolation housing set aside, as we have done in previous semesters, we expect that those spaces will be utilized quickly. For this reason, students who are safely able to do so will likely be required to return home or to another safe place to recover, or to recover in their rooms. This could include recovery with roommates who have not yet tested positive for COVID-19, with the assumption that these individuals already are close contacts who have been exposed. This is a different strategy than we have employed in the past, but a necessary step given where we are in the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Vermont Department of Health have introduced new guidelines that reduce the recommended isolation period from 10 days to a five-day isolation with negative antigen test protocols on Day 5. Middlebury has not yet amended our policy, and so students and employees should plan on a 10-day isolation period at this time. We are evaluating these guidelines and we are working to secure additional antigen tests. More information will be provided once it becomes available, and we will post any changes to our policies on the Campus Status webpage.
Face Covering Requirements
During this time of high transmission of the virus, it is absolutely essential that all students and employees strictly adhere to our indoor mask requirement, and that they wear masks, indoors or outdoors, where distance cannot be maintained. The latest guidelines on face coverings are published on the Campus Status webpage.
The CDC and Vermont Department of Health offer guidance on well-fitting face coverings. We continue to work with individual departments to assess needs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and will provide training to employees on proper use of this equipment.
Booster Requirement and Upcoming Clinics on Campus
We know that vaccination plus booster shots, in addition to other mitigation measures, provide the best possible protection against COVID-19. Under new guidance from the CDC and Vermont Department of Health, individuals who are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 must now quarantine for five days if they have not yet received their booster shot.
Therefore, students who are eligible for boosters now are required to receive their booster shot either prior to or at arrival on January 8 or 9.
We will offer booster clinics Saturday and Sunday, January 8 and 9, for eligible students who are unable to access a booster shot prior to their arrival (supply permitting). Students who have not yet received their booster should bring their vaccination cards with them to campus so this information can be added. If the booster clinic is full, students will be required to schedule a booster shot as soon as possible through the Department of Health or a local pharmacy. We may also hold additional booster clinics in the coming weeks.
Students who have already received their booster shot must upload documentation to the student health portal prior to arrival. Students who are not yet eligible must receive their booster shot and upload the required documentation to the student health portal no later than two weeks after they are eligible.
Eligible employees are strongly encouraged to get a COVID-19 booster as soon as possible and, in accordance with our COVID-19 Vaccination Policy, no later than February 14. More information about booster clinics for employees will be provided in the coming days. Individuals who have an approved medical or religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine do not have to submit a new exemption request.
Prearrival and Arrival Testing
In addition to showing proof of a negative prearrival PCR test, all students who have not had a documented COVID-19 infection within the past 90 days will be required to be tested upon arrival and once each week for at least the first two weeks of the semester. Anyone who has not been able to secure a PCR test before arrival will enter room quarantine until they receive a negative Day 0 test result.
Required student arrival testing will be conducted on January 8 or 9, then on January 12 and 15. After that, testing will be offered by appointment for both required asymptomatic testing and symptomatic testing for students. Asymptomatic testing will be offered on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Virtue Field House. Students who are experiencing symptoms will be tested Monday through Thursday at Virtue and Friday at Health Services.
Employees will be able to be tested once each week by appointment starting on January 10 and 17 for on-campus employees who are not experiencing symptoms. Close contacts of cases within our community will be able to schedule testing appointments on days that we offer an asymptomatic student testing center. Employees who are symptomatic must secure testing through their healthcare provider.
Test Results Received through Email
Beginning January 10, up to 36 hours after testing, an email will be sent to your @middlebury.edu email address with instructions on how to access our results. Previously, individuals with positive test results were notified via phone and/or email from Health Services (students) or Human Resources (employees). In an effort to make test results available as quickly as possible, all test results will be released to individuals’ Middlebury email addresses and be followed up with instructions, resources, and support via email and/or phone. Individuals expecting a result should always check their email spam or junk mail folders.
Availability of Antigen Tests
We have received many questions about the availability of and turnaround times for NAAT/PCR tests versus antigen tests, and we continue to explore possibilities for moving to more rapid antigen testing. Supplies of antigen tests continue to be an issue, and we will not be able to offer antigen tests to every individual who requests them at this time. We expect that this will change as these tests become more readily available, and we will adjust our testing strategies accordingly.
Instructions for Students with Positive Antigen and PCR Tests before Arrival
The following situations constitute testing positive for COVID-19:
- Having symptoms of COVID-19 and a positive antigen test
- A positive PCR test, with or without symptoms
A positive rapid antigen test for someone who is not experiencing symptoms must be confirmed with a PCR test. Students awaiting confirmatory PCR test results must delay their arrival to campus until they receive negative results.
Students who have tested positive less than 10 days before their scheduled arrival date must follow CDC and healthcare provider instructions, including completing a 10-day isolation, before proceeding to campus. These students must contact Health Services (802-443-3290 or firstname.lastname@example.org) to document their status and request permission for a delayed arrival from their Student Life dean no earlier than Day 11 (Day 0 being the day they took the test that was positive).
Students who have tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered more than 10 days before their scheduled arrival date must contact Health Services (802-443-3290 or healthservices@middlebury) to document their status and may proceed to campus as planned.
Instructions for Employees Who Test Positive
Employees who test positive for COVID-19 should contact Human Resources, their supervisor, and their healthcare provider. Please also see Instructions for Those Exposed, Symptomatic, or Who Have Tested Positive for COVID-19.
COVID-19 Information Session for Employees
Faculty Council and Staff Council will cohost an information session for employees with updates about COVID-19, 11 a.m. to noon on Friday, January 7. More information was shared by those groups in a separate message today.
We continue to follow Vermont Department of Health guidelines for contact tracing of students and employees. Should these regulations change or the volume of cases become too high to expediently perform contact tracing, we would abbreviate or discontinue this practice. In these situations we may ask individuals to provide that information to Human Resources and Health Services or inform their close contacts themselves, which is the current practice in the state of Vermont for low-risk cases.
We know that members of our community will have questions, and we ask that you direct general questions to COVIDInfo@middlebury.edu.
Thank you for taking the time to read through these important updates and for your partnership in navigating the quickly changing landscape of the pandemic. If, upon reflection, being on campus during winter term does not seem right for any student, we will still be able to accommodate that change. We look forward to coming together very soon for a vibrant and fulfilling winter term.
Chief Health Officer and College Physician
Vice President for Student Affairs
Vice President for Human Resources and Chief People Officer