We write today to share some important information about how quickly things can change in the pandemic, and why we need to be particularly vigilant at this time.
Learning from the Experiences of Others
In the past week, we have been in regular communication with a peer institution that is experiencing a substantial outbreak after maintaining a low incidence of COVID-19 cases on its campus earlier in the semester. In short, they looked very much like Middlebury does now––and then things changed very quickly. In the span of a few days, this college experienced a surge in cases, leading to campus-wide room quarantine and the suspension of in-person classes and all non-essential activities. Contact tracing determined that the outbreak was connected to a few small, informal gatherings. We have no doubt that the students involved sincerely believed they were being careful, just as we all have been practicing health and safety measures with persistence since the fall. This is a hard lesson in how insidious asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 can be, and a reminder that we need to continue to protect ourselves and each other from a semester-altering outbreak.
Prevalence in Vermont and the Northeast on the Rise
At the same time that our peer institution is experiencing these challenges, Addison County is maintaining a relatively low prevalence of COVID-19. Neighboring Chittenden and Rutland counties are, however, experiencing surges numbering over 800 and 600 active cases, respectively. Rates of infection also are increasing rapidly across the northeast among those between 18 and 24 years old. This presumably is due to the arrival of more infectious variants in Vermont, combined with the occurrence of more gatherings without strict health and safety protocols in place.
We want to take this opportunity to remind you that whatever your plans are for the upcoming long weekend, it is critical that they are consistent with all COVID-19 health and safety requirements. In particular, all students must do the following:
- Keep all travel inside of Addison County unless you have received specific permission from your dean.
- Avoid small gatherings, unless only your designated close contacts are present, or if you are at a College-authorized event.
- Avoid eating or drinking with others unless you are spaced six feet apart.
- Wear well-fitted face coverings and maintain good hand hygiene.
- Check the Campus Status webpage for the latest rules.
We continue to work on plans to bring vaccines to campus for students as soon as this becomes possible. At this time, however, we do not have enough people on campus who are vaccinated to warrant meaningful changes to our health and safety protocols. While full vaccination offers significant risk reduction for individuals, far more members of our community must be fully vaccinated before we can make substantial changes to our precautions.
One of our ongoing measures to detect any incidence of COVID-19 on campus is regular testing, at a level based on prevalence. Given Monday’s test results, we will be testing every student this Thursday, April 8. As always, attendance at testing is mandatory. Please book your appointment through the Testing Schedule page. The most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that testing is detection not prevention. A negative test result represents a moment in time in which one is not infected with the virus, but does not prevent infection in the future. Only our own behaviors can do that.
We will close by expressing our deep gratitude for all of the hard work and community mindedness that have gotten us to this point. We also want to acknowledge that this success has come at a cost. We recognize the increased levels of stress and exhaustion many are experiencing as the pandemic drags on. We know of the disappointment many are feeling as long anticipated events and traditions turn out differently than imagined. There is, however, reason to be hopeful about better times ahead, and we look forward to embracing them together.
Dean of Students
Chief Health Officer and College Physician