Vt. colleges taking cautious approach to relaxing COVID rules

Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 4:46 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As Vermont K-12 schools move toward removing masks, many local colleges have not let down their guard yet.

As University of Vermont students prepared to leave for spring break Friday, the school’s indoor mask mandate remained. COVID cases continue to be relatively low on campus, and many students are hoping they will be able to say goodbye to the restrictions by the time they return.

“It’s a good level of strict. It still helps feel safe, but again, better than last year,” said Isabella Weston, a UVM senior who says she’s ok for now wearing masks inside. She says this year has been better, being able to socialize and go to classes, but that the overall stress of two full years living with the virus has taken its toll. “I think going into the spring it feels better. Vermont’s loosening requirements right now and it’s getting less strict. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a normal graduation. The university hasn’t said anything different yet. There’s definitely a sense of hope moving into the spring and summer.”

UVM has rolled back some restrictions including mandatory testing and limits on gatherings.

“I’ve been meeting a lot of people, meeting a lot of friends. COVID hasn’t hampered that we are all vaccinated, there are no restrictions on not seeing people at all,” said Jack Donovan, a first-year student.

However, some students are wondering when mandatory masking will end. “You can’t go out of your dorm room without a mask. And every time you’re in the dining hall you’re wearing a mask unless you’re eating. So, I’m really excited for that stuff to start changing and the protocols with that stuff to start to drop,” said Ellie Reed, a first-year student.

While cases continue to drop, there are reminders that the pandemic is not over. Middlebury College recorded 222 new cases just this week. Omicron continues to be an issue at the school and they have continued testing weekly. Officials say students testing positive usually have mild or no symptoms. “I remain hopeful we are headed towards the right place where we can start considering mask optional interactions, as the whole country is moving that way. I am hopeful as the weather in Vermont starts getting warmer we can start doing more things outdoors,” said Smita Ruzicka, with Middlebury Student Affairs.

At St. Michael’s College, they have been averaging around 8 to 10 cases a week. Though the numbers are continuing to drop, Mary Masson, a nurse practitioner at the school, says they are going to wait until after spring break before dropping any mask mandates. “We probably will watch as students return from spring break, our own virus load cases on campus. But we know we have a very highly-vaccinated campus and we hope to loosen a lot of mitigation factors once they return and are settled back in on campus,” she said.

Overall, school officials we spoke with said they are incredibly grateful for how cooperative students have been with getting vaccinated and following the mandates. They say they are starting to look more at the severity of illness rather than case numbers to inform their mandates.

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