President Patton: Middlebury College plans to exceed Vt. COVID guidelines

As I am sure you are aware, Gov. Phil Scott has released new state of Vermont guidelines for reopening colleges and universities, and he held a press conference today to further explain these rules and regulations.

I am pleased to share that the state Department of Health guidelines, which were developed in consultation with institutions of higher education throughout the state, including Middlebury College, are consistent with our reopening plans. Please know that we will meet or exceed these recommendations, as our highest priority is to protect the health and safety of the entire community. Specifically, Middlebury will go above and beyond the new state guidelines for COVID-19 testing, quarantine, and required face coverings during our phased return to campus, with the strictest protocols in place during our staggered student move-in days, and with the flexibility to ease or tighten restrictions as needed. 

I am gratified that the state has partnered with us to plan for a safe return to residential education and am encouraged by this new direction. Still, I want to acknowledge the uncertainty of the situation. While Vermont continues to have a small number of COVID-19 cases, we need to be ever-vigilant and aware of the changing circumstances in our state, in the nation, and around the world. This global pandemic presents a formidable challenge for all of us, and we must continue to work together to reconnect our global community in the safest way possible. Please remember, your Midd is our Midd. The success of each of our actions is dependent upon the cooperation of us all.

We are continuing to develop our plans, and more information and specific instructions will be shared in mid-July. I can tell you that some of Middlebury’s guidelines are more stringent than the state’s, and others are more accommodating to the special circumstances of our students than what was previously announced. With that in mind, I’d like to provide you with some updates and clarifications:

•  It is important to note that while the state specifies that two visitors may accompany a student on their arrival day, Middlebury will be encouraging students to have only one drop-off guest accompany them to campus. If families traveling long distances require two drop-off guests to enable safe driving, one guest should remain in the vehicle while on campus. Only students will be allowed inside residence halls. 

•  While wearing face coverings is suggested but not required by the state inside residence halls if physical distancing can be maintained, Middlebury will initially require students to wear face coverings while moving about common spaces, except while eating or during personal grooming.

•  While the state does not require face coverings to be worn outside for those who can maintain physical distancing of six feet or more, Middlebury will initially require face coverings to be worn outdoors unless an individual is exercising alone or eating with others while practicing physical distancing.

•  While the state allows those who are coming from a nonquarantine county — as defined by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development’s (ACCD) travel policy — to skip quarantine, Middlebury is requiring all students to self-quarantine for 14 days prearrival, regardless of what location they are coming from and regardless of their mode of travel. All students will room quarantine once on campus and will move to campus quarantine if they receive a negative day-zero COVID test. 

•  The state recommends, but does not require, that all keep a journal of those they have interacted with to assist in contact tracing in the event of a positive case. Middlebury will instruct all faculty, staff, and students to maintain a contact tracing log with close contacts in the event of an exposure.

•  The state recommends day-zero testing for all students from a quarantine county as identified by ACCD’s travel policy, and for out-of-state students from any county who arrive in Vermont through mass transportation. Middlebury will test all students on day zero, regardless of mode of travel or location.

•  The state says students should only travel to and from nonquarantine counties as defined by the ACCD travel policy or plan to quarantine upon return. Initially, Middlebury will not allow students to travel out of state except in the case of emergency and with approval from their dean.

Students who are living off campus are subject to the same requirements as students living on campus (including testing, quarantining, isolation, and all other health-related protocols). The college will work closely with all off-campus housing groups to educate them about these behavioral expectations.

The following requirements are shared by Middlebury and the state:

•  In accordance with the state of Vermont Department of Health return-to-campus regulations, all faculty, staff, and students must sign a health pledge before returning to campus.

•  Middlebury will require daily health checks for all faculty, staff, and students to check for COVID-19 symptoms or possible exposure to COVID-19–positive individuals.

•  Middlebury will require physical distancing and regular hand hygiene and conduct regular cleaning and disinfecting.

•  Out-of-state institutional travel should continue to be suspended except in special cases approved by Middlebury leadership.

•  Middlebury will change academic schedules to minimize comings and goings. Our switch to remote instruction after Thanksgiving is consistent with this rule.

•  Middlebury will reduce events and not permit outside speakers, to minimize the risk of exposure for the entire community.

•  Consistent with state guidelines, Middlebury’s dining services will open with a phased approach, initially offering only takeout options picked up from assigned dining halls. Throughout the semester, Middlebury will offer outside dining space, takeout options, and limited indoor seating to reduce the number of people in dining halls at any one time.

•  The state requires that athletics activities be conducted in a way that minimizes the risk of exposure. The state plans to release athletics-specific guidelines at a later date.

•  Middlebury will allow performing arts activities provided physical distancing can be maintained, consistent with the state rules.

•  The state requires colleges and universities to establish disciplinary measures for those who do not abide by the guidelines, to protect the health and safety of all. 

•  Middlebury will accommodate at-risk faculty, staff, or students with disabilities who need accommodations to participate safely. This includes offering the option of remote instruction, special living situations, and course reassignments as needed.

•  Middlebury has a plan in place for quarantine and isolation, in the event of positive cases as well as — in an extreme situation — evacuation. 

I hope that this update — the second weekly update this summer — has been helpful as you think about your return to campus and your work in the fall. Please do not hesitate to email COVIDinfo@middlebury.edu should you have further questions. You will hear from us again next week on the latest developments of our planning.

Thank you for taking the time to consider how you may contribute to our successful reopening during this most unusual fall. As I work with members of the Middlebury community on all aspects of our response to COVID-19, I am daily reminded of the depth and energy of our collective educational enterprise.

President Laurie Patton

Middlebury College

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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