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Health officials say strict COVID testing regimen for college students sets Vermont apart

Published: Aug. 28, 2020 at 4:21 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 28, 2020 at 4:29 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - State officials say Vermont’s college reopening is a success so far. Out of the 21,000 estimated students expected to live or attend classes on campus this fall, 15,000 are from out of state, and state officials say more than half have already returned. As Cat Viglienzoni reports, the data shows Vermont’s experience is the exact opposite of what some other states are seeing.

“Vermont continues to be the best in the nation,” said Vt. Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak Friday, and he says that includes the return of college students. His department’s latest data modeling focused largely on college reopenings. “Early on here, but we’re not seeing the kind of spikes that we were worried about.

Northern Vermont University already has all its students back and has finished at least one round of COVID-19 testing. That’s why they were chosen to illustrate the differences between Vermont’s return approach and that of another school in the headlines -- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Pieciak and his team found three key differences they say make Vermont’s experience safer. The first difference is the size of the student body. NVU has 1,500 students compared to UNC’s 30,000. He says smaller on-campus populations mean less chance of the virus entering and spreading.

The second difference is the testing. NVU ran more than 2,300 tests for returning students. UNC ran just 5,000. Vermont officials say by testing aggressively, the state’s higher ed institutions are catching any potential cases.

And the third difference, Pieciak says, is where the students are coming from. NVU students are primarily from the Northeast, where COVID-19 case counts are lower -- NVU has had no cases -- whereas UNC students come from areas that are struggling more with the virus. They have had nearly 1,000 cases connected to the campus, forcing a recent decision to cancel in-person classes.

Pieciak acknowledged that the University of Vermont might have provided a more accurate comparison, but he noted that only 19 returning college students statewide have tested positive out of 8,600, so he says that shows sick students are largely not showing up.

UVM CLASSES SET TO BEGIN NEXT WEEK

With classes getting underway next week, move in testing continues at the Univesity of Vermont.

Through this past Wednesday, over 350 students who will be living on campus have been tested. A total of 870 off-campus students have also been tested for the coronavirus. The school plans to test more than 7,000 students, faculty, and staff before classes start. So far, the university has not received any positive test results.

Representatives from UVM stressed that students who’ve been in Burlington for the past three weeks have been tested multiple times and are expected to have been tested again this week.

“On Monday we tested probably about 1,000 people. On Tuesday we tested about 1,100, and then both Wednesday and Thursday we were at 2,000. And today I anticipate probably another 2,000,” said Kevin Hytten with UVM’s COVID-19 Information and Service Center.

The center expects to test over 8,000 students, faculty, and staff by the end of the week and will have the last of those results within 24-hours.

Related Story:

University of Vermont aims to test 10K students in coming days

UVM sets up COVID testing facility, 10-step system

How UVM plans to keep students, staff, community safe

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