Middlebury holds breath as Covid case number sits at two

By Tony Sjodin

Sean Rhee

Middlebury’s second round of Day Seven Covid-19 tests revealed no new cases of the virus among students, leaving the college’s total number of active cases at two. All enrolled students living on campus and in town were tested on Sept. 2, when 821 tests were administered, and on Sept. 4, when 1,138 tests were administered. 

One student in the Sept. 2 cohort tested positive, bringing the number of active student cases to two. All other students tested negative or were retested due to insufficient samples. 

The student who tested positive on Sept. 2 had previously received a negative result from their Day Zero test. Following their release from room quarantine, the student learned about a possible exposure at home. Upon receiving notification of the potential exposure, the college informed the Vermont Department of Health for contact tracing purposes and told students who may have come into close contact with the individual to quarantine in their rooms until cleared. That student tested positive, but all of their contacts have since been released from quarantine.

Middlebury will now move toward its Targeted Dynamic Testing program, testing 750 members of the college community each week starting Tuesday, Sept. 8. The first week of testing includes many employees who are working on campus, ResLife staff and MiddView leaders. The college will report the results of those tests by noon on the day they are received on Middlebury’s Covid-19 Reporting Dashboard.

To be tested, students arrive at Virtue Field House within a specified time slot, where they blow their nose and sanitize their hands before entering. Staff then direct them down a path to a specific testing station, where students confirm their information with a staff member who sits behind a clear barrier. Finally, they pick up a cotton swab and vial and go to another staff member, who instructs them about how to properly swab the inside of their nostrils. 

Samples are later sent to the Cambridge-based Broad Institute, which conducts the tests and returns results to the college in about 24 hours. The Broad Institute is working with 108 colleges and universities in Massachusetts and the surrounding states to test students, faculty and staff for Covid-19. 

Targeted dynamic testing will follow the same procedures as earlier rounds of testing. According to the Return to Campus Guide, “While this kind of ongoing, periodic testing of a population has not been widely studied, there are indications from some countries that it can be beneficial in detecting asymptomatic or presymptomatic cases.”

The college may adjust how much testing is done weekly if positive cases remain low or tick upwards, according to the guide. It also notes that the Center for Disease Control and Vermont Department of Health have instructed that individuals who have a positive PCR test should not be re-tested until 90 days later. In the case of a false positive, those individuals would be excluded from testing and could later contract the virus without being identified by dynamic testing.

Individuals who receive insufficient samples are retested shortly thereafter, but, after a negative Day Zero result, they do not have to room quarantine while awaiting retest results. Students whose Day Zero samples were insufficient had an extended room quarantine, while the rest of the student population was released to campus quarantine. 

Beau Berg ’24 was one of the few students whose test came back inconclusive.  

“Being online [for orientation] was definitely good, so I didn’t miss out on as much as I might have otherwise, but it was pretty hard just sitting in my dorm all day when it seems like everybody is out making friends,” said Berg.

Berg took his Day Zero test when he arrived on Wednesday, Aug. 26 with other first-years, and received an email telling him his test was inconclusive on Friday morning. He then retested with the group of students arriving on Friday, Aug. 28 and remained in room quarantine until Sunday night.

With Day 7 testing now completed for all students, the campus is looking toward a relaxation of restrictions in Phase 2 of the reopening plan — possibly beginning on Sept. 15.