St. Michael’s College looks to contain growing COVID cluster

A COVID-19 cluster on a Vermont college campus is growing.
Published: Oct. 26, 2020 at 4:37 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 27, 2020 at 6:11 AM EDT
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - A COVID-19 cluster on a Vermont college campus is growing. Three more cases were reported Monday at St. Michael’s College, making it 28 total active cases. Some 140 people are now in quarantine on the campus of 1,500 people.

Our Ike Bendavid spoke with school officials who defended their containment of the growing cluster.

But it’s not just on the college campus, statewide we are seeing a higher number of cases.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: What is the mood on campus right now?

Grace Fornabia/Junior at St. Mike’s: Sad.

Fornabia spoke with WCAX via Zoom because travel off-campus is suspended.

Fornabia and fellow St. Mike’s juniors Molly O’Brien and Mairead Walsh are some of the 1,500 students wondering what’s next.

“No one thinks that we are going to be here for too long,” O’Brien said.

“And if we are going to be here, everything is going to be remote,” Fornabia said.

St. Michael’s College started the year with students on campus with mixed online and in-person classes.

Last week, they saw a spike in positive COVID-19 tests and the number of cases continues to grow. The students are now remote through the next round of campuswide testing on Saturday.

The school says they were quick to respond.

“We can test as we need to and we will continue to flex as we need to in response to the situation,” said Kristin McAndrew, the vice president for enrollment.

But students had mixed reactions to the testing protocols that were required once every three weeks.

“They are doing their best. It was an unprecedented situation-- they have no roadmap to what’s going on,” O’Brien said.

“If anything, I wish they did testing kind of like UVM. I wish we were tested every week to know week by week who is positive and who is negative,” Fornabia said.

McAndrew says the school’s policy was developed with the Vermont Department of Health.

“Our plan exceeds what two-thirds of colleges and universities around the county are doing,” McAndrew said.

St. Mike’s is a residential school with most students living on campus. They tell me that means the virus might move throughout the student population on the locked-down campus but should not hit the surrounding community.

But they say that one positive test is one too many.

“There is no plan that can keep a pandemic from touching a college campus,” McAndrew said.

“We are seeing the uptick we thought we would see and we need to maintain control of this virus,” Vermont State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said.

Kelso tells me that it’s not just on this college campus, we are seeing a rise in numbers statewide-- a reminder to be extra careful as winter approaches.

“There is still COVID-19 circulating in Vermont and even more so in the rest of the country,” Kelso said. “So we are just continuing to see cases on a sporadic basis, as well as adding to our outbreaks and clusters.”

Students are told not to leave the campus unless they are essential workers.

The next round of testing is Saturday. St. Mike’s was testing students once every three weeks, but now that it’s weekly, it’s possible they could see higher positive numbers because there’s more testing. But nearby UVM already tests students weekly and had only one positive result this week out of nearly 11,000 tests among students, faculty and staff.

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