COVID on campus: a dozen cases confirmed

Students, faculty and staff were not the only ones returning to Northern Vermont University’s Johnson campus in August.
Before the first week of classes had reached its close, three students tested positive for the virus, announced Thursday, Aug. 26. Three more cases were announced Monday, Aug. 30 after results from pop-up testing on Thursday and Friday following the initial three cases.
The next evening, instructions came from Interim President John Mills to switch to remote learning alongside the announcement of an additional two cases, bringing the campus total to eight positives. Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 1, the change was set to last only until that Friday.
On that Friday, three more test results were announced as positive. On Sunday, Sept. 5, results from testing revealed only one additional case and came with the announcement that in-person instruction would be resuming on Monday, Sept. 06.
Since then, NVU-Johnson has seen no additional positive test results. A single case on the Lyndon campus was announced on Friday, Sept. 10, and another came a week later. Sept. 10 also saw the expansion of NVU’s weekly testing hours — initially noon to 1:15 p.m. and now 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.
“One of the most important things — if you’re not feeling well, say something and stay home,” said Jonathan Davis, NVU’s dean of students. “Stay where you are, quarantine in place if you’re on campus and let your RA know, let your hall advisor know.”
Davis has been coordinating NVU’s response to the pandemic since it first hit in March of 2020. He said the safety of students, staff, and faculty are the school’s top priority, but it requires active effort.
“Masking is the key,” Davis said. “If you’re inside, take the masking policy seriously. It’s for the health and benefit of not only yourself but everyone around you.”
An indoor mask mandate is in effect across both of NVU’s campuses. The mandate came into effect on Friday, Aug. 13 following CDC guidelines that individuals in areas with substantial or high transmission rates wear masks indoors.
According to the CDC, transmission rates become substantial when there are 50 or more new cases per 100,000 persons within the past seven days. Over 100 cases per 100,000 in the same period constitutes high rates of transmission.
“If and when county transmission rates go down according to the CDC, we will reevaluate this requirement and notify the community,” Davis said in the email announcement. “For the time being, however, masking, vaccination, and other safety measures will help us safely navigate this fully face-to-face fall semester.”
As Lamoille county’s population is roughly 25,000, until there are fewer than 12 new cases per week, NVU-J will have to stay masked. As of Sept. 16, the Vermont Department of Health reported 67 new cases in the past two weeks, placing the county in the high transmission category.
The whole of the VSCS is also requiring students to be vaccinated or to submit approved exemption forms. This vaccine mandate was announced on Thursday, July 22 following a period of uncertainty as to whether it would be enacted.
“The safety of our students, employees, and local community members is our top priority as we continue to respond to the ongoing pandemic,” Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said in her email announcement. “Our goal remains for all members of the VSCS community who are able to be vaccinated to get vaccinated.”
Initially, the VSCS said it would wait until the FDA had moved the vaccines past emergency use authorization to make them mandatory. However, the change came long before the first vaccine — manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech — was permanently approved on Aug. 23, coincidentally the first day of classes.
While vaccines have proven effective in clinical trials and through emergency usage in non-laboratory settings, Davis said on Sept. 2 that 43% of the existing cases had been breakthroughs. Despite this statistic, vaccination remains the most effective way to protect oneself and others from COVID-19.
“We’re confident that the vaccine is able to protect people,” Davis said. Also on Sept. 2, he confirmed that 96% of Johnson students had submitted proof of vaccination, and that an additional 3% had submitted approved exemptions, for a total of 99% compliance with the vaccine requirement.
For more information on masking, testing and vaccination, visit the CDC’s website or Northern Vermont University’s “NVU During COVID-19” page.