UVM students start arriving and quarantining on campus

Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 12:16 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 at 5:49 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington just got a whole lot busier as the first wave of University of Vermont students moved on campus. Their arrival has some concerned about a spike in COVID cases but UVM and state health officials believe their testing and quarantine plans will keep the community safe. Our Christina Guessferd found out how families feel about the new safety protocols.

Some 260 out-of-staters arrived on campus Friday before the rest of the 5,600 students living in dorms for the fall semester move-in.

All students must have a negative test before coming back to Burlington. And the students who arrived Friday from counties not on the safe travel map also have to quarantine.

"It is so weird, I don't know how to feel about it. I'm so used to cars parking on the grass because there's so many people here," said Alessandra Zwack, a UVM student from Rhode Island.

UVM sophomore Alessandra Zwack arrived at the University Heights complex to a much smaller crowd of students than usual.

"It's a lot. I'm not used to this, no one's used to this," Zwack said.

Out-of-state students had to take a COVID-19 test five days before making the trek to Vermont. Once they unpacked their belongings, they completed an additional test at one of UVM's pop-up sites. Then it's a week confined to their rooms before taking another test.

"It's an honor system. They want everybody to abide by it. They know they can't check in on everybody as they come," said Paul Behrens, the father of a student from Illinois.

Despite the seemingly lax enforcement, Paul Behrens says he's very comfortable sending his son off to his first semester of college.

"I think it's a good process," son Brian Behrens said. "Especially the quarantining on campus."

But returning students like Zwack say they know how the dorms can be a breeding ground for germs, especially if some students venture off campus and then come back.

"Last year, the first month I was here I was sick three times just from coming to a new dorm with hundreds of kids," Zwack said. "It could spread really easily if we let that happen."

That's exactly what worries senior Cobalt Tolbert from the UVM Union of Students. He argues the UVM administration is creating conditions for an outbreak rather than protecting people from COVID-19. Tolbert is among those who think UVM should have gone with an all-remote model this fall.

“Dorm life is more intimate, there’s definitely going to be a lot more hanging out and a lot more socialization, so putting a bunch of kids who haven’t seen each other for six months and tell them to live very close to each other, but don’t ever actually hang out if unrealistic,” Tolbert said.

And many students moving say they aren't willing to sacrifice connecting with their peers.

“It’s my college experience,” Zwack said. “I want my friends to be a part of it.”

I asked the families how they would feel if the campus shut down soon after moving in. They tell me they were willing to take the risk and they’re prepared to tackle another transition to all-remote learning, if necessary.

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