After delays, Aug. 28 testing results show no new Covid-19 cases

One symptomatic student, who had previously tested negative, was placed in isolation Monday but later received another negative test result.

By James Finn

Middlebury’s testing center is located in Virtue Field House. (Benjy Renton)

UPDATE: Tuesday, Sept. 1, 12:03 a.m.

The student in isolation in Porter House, who was placed in isolation Monday morning after developing Covid-19 symptoms, received a negative test result late Monday night for a test administered after they developed symptoms. The student told The Campus that they would remain in Porter House Monday night and would consult with college health workers the following morning about next steps.

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After delays in the delivery of test results nearly doubled the “room quarantine” period for students who arrived on Middlebury’s campus Friday, results returned throughout Sunday afternoon and evening showed promising early signs for Middlebury’s reopening efforts, with no new positive results among those who arrived on campus Friday. 

Updated Monday morning, the Covid-19 dashboard showed zero positives among the 1,109 tests conducted Friday and 26 from Saturday (six people tested Friday were re-tested due to insufficient samples). Middlebury has thus logged just one Covid-19 case since students returned to campus (a student tested positive after arriving on August 26). While the lack of positive results marks an early success in the college’s reopening, administrators cautioned in an all-school email against students taking a lax approach to Covid-19 guidelines in the week ahead. 

“While we are encouraged by these early results, follow-up testing of all students seven days after their arrival is another vital component of our plan and an important safeguard against potential spread of the virus,” wrote Director of Health Services Mark Peluso and Dean of Students Derek Doucet in an all-community email Monday. All students who arrived Friday living on and off campus will be tested again on Sept. 5, seven days after their initial test. 

At least one student developed Covid-19 symptoms, including a fever, sore throat and chills overnight Sunday after receiving a negative arrival test result earlier that day and being released from room quarantine. The student, who told The Campus about their situation on condition of anonymity because of privacy concerns, was moved into isolation in Porter House Monday morning and is awaiting results of a second Covid-19 test administered today.

The student said they were placed in Porter rather than Munford because the latter house is reserved for those with confirmed Covid-19 cases.  

A Parton staff member initially told the student’s suitemates and residents of an adjacent suite who had spent time with the student to temporarily self-isolate. However, hours later they were told by a Parton nurse practitioner that they were allowed to return to campus quarantine pending the symptomatic student’s results.

Some of the students who were in contact with the symptomatic individual told The Campus that they have chosen to take extra precautions of their own accord, and all said they had followed distancing and mask protocols around the symptomatic person. None said they have developed symptoms of their own. 

When asked about the status of the quarantined student, Director of Media Relations Sarah Ray wrote in an email to The Campus that “to protect the privacy of our community, we will not be releasing any information about individuals who test positive or who are in isolation for any reason.” Ray did not respond to a question about whether contact tracing had begun for students outside of the symptomatic student’s living partners, or whether contact tracing would take place only in the event of a positive test. 

Students who arrived Friday were originally expected to receive test results sometime Saturday, and expressed increasing frustration as the hours of room quarantine wore on through Sunday evening. But negative test results began to arrive in inboxes that afternoon and evening, and students gradually trickled out of their rooms onto a changed campus, where masked, socially-distanced gatherings and outside dinners eaten from to-go containers are now the norm. 

The delays in returning results occurred due to a staff scheduling issue at the Broad Institute, the Cambridge, Mass.-based lab that is providing Middlebury’s testing, Doucet wrote in an email to The Campus on Sunday evening. 

“It appears to be less a total capacity issue and more a scheduling one,” he wrote, when asked if the slow turnaround was due to the increase in the number of tests Broad is performing, as it tests at other colleges with move-in dates this week. “Broad operates around the clock, but needed to adjust its staffing plan to ensure that it had sufficient staff at the busiest times of their processing day, which turned out to be at different times then they anticipated. They tell us they’ve now adjusted.”

In an email to The Campus, Broad Communications Director David Cameron said that Broad’s testing capacity is presently at 50,000 tests per day, and that “we should have that up to 100k per day in a few weeks if needed.” 

On its website, Broad claims its tests are processed with turnaround time “typically less than 24 hours.” The institute is also providing testing for more than 100 other colleges and universities including Williams, Harvard, Colby and UVM, all of which have intensive testing plans and saw large numbers of students return to campus in the past week. 

Most Middlebury students now on campus moved in on Friday, a day on which Broad performed the most tests of any day since it began Covid-19 testing in March. The institute processed nearly 44,000 tests that day, and more than 30,000 each of the two days prior. 

Managing Editor Hattie LeFavour contributed reporting. 

Correction 9/1/20: A previous version of this article stated that 1,103 tests were conducted Friday, Aug. 28. The correct number was 1,109 tests, with 1,103 negative results and six yielding insufficient samples that led to re-tests.

Correction 9/3/20: A previous version of this article stated that the Broad Institute is providing testing to 25 colleges and universities The Campus was able to find. In a press release on Sept. 2, Broad stated the true number was 108 colleges and universities. The article has been updated.