| by Mark Peluso and Jennifer Kazmierczak

Faculty, Fall 2020, Staff

Dear Faculty and Staff,

We write to provide some guidance on how to prepare for a safe holiday break.

With the current surge in COVID-19 cases throughout Vermont and the United States, Governor Phil Scott issued an executive order late last week, greatly restricting social gatherings and encouraging residents to reconsider their plans for Thanksgiving. We’ve received many questions from you about what this means for faculty and staff, how you might participate in testing, and what measures you should take if you plan to travel. 

Staying the Course

As a community, we’ve been able to maintain a low prevalence of COVID-19. We’ve done this by strictly adhering to the essential measures of wearing masks, physical distancing, avoiding gatherings, practicing proper hand hygiene, and staying home from work when not feeling well. Many of you have had to work remotely, while others have made significant changes in your work routines to ensure the safety of our campus and community. You have all been incredible, and we want to take every opportunity to thank you.

Sustaining this kind of effort, and continuing to do the right thing, presents a formidable challenge—at a time when we are looking forward to a well-deserved break and connecting with family and friends. Given the current conditions in Vermont and in the world, however, this is a challenge we must meet to avoid the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

We can’t emphasize enough that doing our part now by following state and College guidelines is more important than ever.

How COVID-19 Affects Our Community

Throughout the semester, we have evaluated a number of factors in our decisions about campus operations during the pandemic, including remote work, in-person classes, codes of conduct, and interactions with the town of Middlebury. Those factors include potential strain on hospital resources, availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), and, most important, risk to individuals who could develop serious symptoms or complications from COVID-19. 

Even with new restrictions in place, the Vermont Department of Health modeling data predicts a spike in COVID-19 cases in Vermont as a direct result of Thanksgiving gatherings. To support this prediction, the Health Department shared data about the October 12 celebration of Thanksgiving in Canada (slides 20–24), which resulted in marked increases in COVID-19 cases in provinces that typically celebrate the holiday by gathering on that day. These facts, combined with our collective fatigue in sustaining best practices to prevent COVID-19 spread, are concerning.

Doubling Down on Vigilance

It is absolutely essential that we all follow Governor Scott’s executive order and Health Commissioner Mark Levine’s plea to stay put and, for those who celebrate, have the smallest possible Thanksgiving with only members of our own households. The sacrifice of not spending time as we normally do or as planned—after working so hard for the last nine months—will not be easy, but it is necessary.

Please keep in mind that the Health Department strongly advises against nonessential travel, even within Vermont. Any nonessential travel to and from Vermont requires quarantine of 14 days, or seven days followed by a negative test. In addition, anyone who visits or stays with you must abide by the state’s Visitors to Vermont guidelines.

Testing Opportunities in Vermont

Many of you have asked about testing. As part of our targeted dynamic testing program, we have identified individuals who were close contacts of recent confirmed cases on campus and are currently identifying peripheral contacts. These close and peripheral contacts will be notified, and special testing clinics will be arranged based on the timing of their possible exposure. Once this process is complete, we will pause the targeted dynamic testing program while still offering symptomatic testing to any students remaining on the campus. If conditions change in Vermont and in Middlebury, we will re-evaluate that approach.
 At this time, we are not offering general testing to employees. 

Earlier this week, the state of Vermont announced that it would increase testing capacity across the state. Appointments should be made via the Department of Health website

Please remember that testing results provide information about a specific point in time, and a negative test should not be used as a justification for gathering. For more detailed information, please visit the Preparing for a Safe Departure from Campus website.

Looking Ahead

As we look to the future, recent news about possible vaccines for COVID-19 is promising. Middlebury has begun conversations with state health officials about how the College might help distribute vaccines in 2021. We are evaluating how this would be done, and we will keep you informed as more information becomes available. 

Finally, we have worked so hard and come so far this semester. Our actions over the next few weeks will have a dramatic impact on our community. Thank you for all you have done and will continue to do. We are in this together.

Sincerely, 

Mark Peluso
Chief Health Officer and College Physician

Jen Kazmierczak
Environmental Health and Safety Officer