Second on-campus student tests positive for Covid-19

By Hattie LeFavour

Middlebury’s Covid-19 testing center in Virtue Field House. (Benjy Renton)

A second Middlebury student is in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, as revealed by the Day Seven test results delivered yesterday for students who arrived on August 26 and 27. 

Of the 322 results received from the round so far, only one test was positive, 316 were negative, and five were inconclusive and will be retested, according to an all-students email sent by Director of Health Services Mark Peluso on Sept. 3. The infected student is doing well, Peluso said. 

The student had learned this week that they were exposed to the virus at home before arriving on campus, according to Peluso. Upon realizing they were at risk of infection while at Middlebury, the student entered quarantine while awaiting test results. The number of contacts under quarantine on Middlebury’s Covid-19 dashboard jumped on Wednesday from two individuals to four. The number then jumped again yesterday to show one new student under isolation totalling two and 10 students under quarantine, likely reflecting others who had been in close contact with the infected student in the past days.

“While we expected to see additional positive results in our Day Seven testing and were prepared to respond, we know this news is concerning to our community,” Dr. Peluso wrote. “It cannot be said enough that we must remain vigilant during this period of campus quarantine and beyond.” 

The case has been reported to the Vermont Department of Health which has commenced contact tracing for the infected student, and it is likely that additional students will be moved into quarantine. While the infected student was quarantined after learning of their own exposure before arrival, no precautions were taken surrounding the student’s on-campus close contacts until the student officially tested positive yesterday. 

The college’s policy dictates that contact tracing does not occur for close contacts of a symptomatic or possibly exposed student until the student in question has received a positive test result. This protocol is consistent with the Vermont Department of Health, which is responsible for all on-campus contact tracing and treats such incidents as they would any other case in Vermont. 

“This approach, which is required by the Vermont Department of Health, has proven to be an effective mitigation measure for COVID-19 and other illnesses,” Peluso wrote in an email to The Campus.

According to Middlebury’s Covid-19 information page, “Close contact is defined as being closer than six feet for longer than 15 minutes, regardless of whether a face covering was worn.” On the Vermont Department of Health website, “close contacts” are listed to be anyone with whom you live, have eaten a meal, shared a car or been intimate partners, among others.

“[The department] conducts contact tracing and determines who is a close contact, and thus subject to quarantine,” Dean of Students Derek Doucet wrote in an email to The Campus. “Until a positive test result is received, a symptomatic individual is likely to be considered a person under investigation (PUI).”

Because only positive cases are reported to the Vermont Department of Health, those who have been in close contact with PUIs are not traced or quarantined. Such was the case earlier this week when a student was moved to isolation housing after developing symptoms indicative of Covid-19, including a high fever, sore throat and chills. Although the student ultimately tested negative, her suitemates and other close contacts were not directed to quarantine or take extra precautions while awaiting her test result. 

While the Vermont Department of Health continues contact tracing procedures for the infected student, Dr. Peluso urges students to be cautious. “The entire campus must follow strict health and safety protocols — including the wearing of face coverings, regular hand washing and physical distancing — and abide by our codes of conduct to ensure a successful semester.