The following statement was previously published in the Addison County Independent on August 13, 2020 and signed by current and previous faculty and staff. More individuals have signed since its original publication. The piece has been lightly edited in accordance with The Campus’ style guidelines.
As local residents with deep concern about the health of our community, we listened carefully to the presentation by officials of Middlebury College (our employer) to the Selectboard about plans to reopen the campus. We’ve concluded that although these plans were the result of serious work by many individuals , they do not offer sufficient assurance that the college can safely reopen next month without risking a Covid-19 outbreak in Addison County.
Those announced plans had several troubling components, three of which were (1) failure to provide for ongoing weekly testing of everyone, (2) no indication of hazard pay for staff members whose jobs entail the greatest risk of contagion, and (3) too high a density of students as 2200 or more are packed into dormitories with many sharing double rooms.
Even more importantly, the hoped-for success of the college’s plan rests on flawed assumptions about the expected behavior of 18–22 year olds. We talk candidly with students all the time, and almost all uniformly agree that masks, social distancing guidelines, and travel restrictions simply will not be sufficiently followed. If only one or two percent of the students don’t follow a rigorous quarantine at home or inadvertently pick up the virus on their travel to campus or have a false negative test on arrival or visit friends in other states on the weekend or fail to stay “one cow apart” after several drinks at a party, then an epidemic can easily arise that will overcome our small hospital’s facilities and spread off campus.
Middlebury College officials have indicated many times that they will change plans as the pandemic develops. While the number of Covid-19 cases may have seemed to be plateauing in late spring, we are now seeing surges of the disease in more than 30 states.
Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the federal government’s task force on the pandemic, warned this week that the virus “is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as well as urban areas.”
So far, Vermont has been spared widespread occurrences of the disease, but that situation would rapidly deteriorate if thousands of young people spill into the state from “hot spots” all across the nation. Many educational institutions with protocols as carefully developed as Middlebury’s, such as Smith, Mount Holyoke, Princeton, University of North Carolina, have already seen how quickly local epidemics can develop and have wisely switched to all online classes with a bare minimum of students in residence. We urge Middlebury College to do the same.
Rebecca Kneale Gould
David Miranda Hardy
Gloria Estela Gonzalez Zenteno