How UVM plans to keep students, staff, community safe

Published: Aug. 11, 2020 at 6:15 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - We are closely tracking back-to-school plans for college students in our region. And we're learning more about how the University of Vermont intends to keep its students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community safe when classes resume. Our Dom Amato has details on the plan.

UVM President Suresh Garimella says his team has been working to reopen campus since they essentially shut down overnight in March. The plan relies on what we've been talking about for months: testing, quarantining, masks, social distancing and more testing.

"It's really not going to be like any fall that students have seen," Garimella said.

The first round of testing for UVM students begins at home. Tests have begun shipping to students before they come back to Burlington. No positive results have come back yet.

“So, nice start,” Garimella said.

Starting Friday, some students requiring a quarantine start to arrive. They’ll be tested again and moved into a special isolation room on campus with meals delivered and no contact with anyone until a negative result comes back. Once it does, they get a little more freedom. Then on day seven-- another test. A negative result means students can move to their permanent rooms.

This strategy continues for all other students, too, with testing on days one and seven, and then weekly through mid-September.

Students will sign up for different time slots and days each week.

"Then after we do that after five or six weeks, our experts said let us look at the data, see whether that's the right amount of, the right frequency or should we be testing more often or less often," Garimella explained.

Some say weekly testing isn’t enough. Garimella points to his medical experts, including the Vermont Health Department.

"For a place like Vermont, weekly testing is about right," Garimella said. "So I do believe the medical experts."

The school has already seen some positive cases on-campus-- five out of the 1,157 asymptomatic students who have been tested since June.

Thousands more have been living off-campus in the Burlington area for months, too.

Only 162 took advantage of testing since March; 10 came back positive.

But Burlington overall has not seen any significant outbreaks and the UVM Medical Center has no COVID patients.

Garimella says if neighbors have concerns about unsafe behavior in student apartments, they should reach out to the school.

"I really think students want UVM to stay open in the fall, as well, and I think that by and large, they'll do the right thing," he said.

Although they have little control over off-campus students, Garimella says with the community’s help, students who aren’t following the safety guidelines can still face steep consequences.

The university says it will track testing and symptoms of both students and faculty through a screening app.

"If a student is doing egregious stuff, he or she will be suspended," Garimella said.

While consequences are clear for not following the rules, another campus closure is not. Garimella says the university will follow orders from the governor or new medical developments, but he believes classes will go through Thanksgiving when students will leave campus for the remainder of the semester.

"We have to balance all of these things," Garimella said. "I think we're doing our best and I'm quite confident in our operation."

More students arrive starting Friday and then weekly from then on out until classes start on August 31.

Related Stories:

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Health commissioner calls UVM’s COVID testing plan strict

Burlington mayor concerned with UVM’s return-to-school plan

UVM says COVID-19 tests will start before students arrive on campus

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