College consolidates spring arrival period, anticipating worse Covid conditions

By Sarah Miller

Sarah Fagan
The Feb. 21 and 22 arrival dates, a shift from the more staggered arrival dates of the fall, will allow the college to keep students on the same testing schedule.

In less than three weeks, Middlebury students will finally move into their rooms for the spring semester. Unlike other colleges — such as the University of Pennsylvania and Trinity College —  that staggered student arrivals over the period of a week, Middlebury plans to divide student arrivals between just two days: Feb. 21 and Feb. 22. 

Consolidating arrivals into two days enables the college to keep students on a single testing schedule and manage the transitions more smoothly than a more staggered schedule would allow, according to Dean of Students Derek Doucet. 

The move-in day procedures will remain the same as the fall semester, despite vastly different conditions. In August 2020, Vermont’s daily new Covid-19 cases averaged in the single digits; in January, those numbers multiplied by tenfold to the 130s. Nationally, the Covid-19 positivity rate almost doubled, spiking from 5.7 percent in August to 11 percent in January.

“Despite new variants, the most effective measures remain unchanged: face coverings, physical distancing and hand hygiene,” Doucet said. “Combined with the pre-arrival quarantine requirement, the importance of which cannot be overstated, universal arrival testing and immediate isolation of all positive cases, these measures remain effective.” 

This semester’s move-in day, he added, should also provide fewer opportunities for students and parents to break social distancing, as most students are moved into their spring housing and the process will be quicker. 

Last semester’s move-in problems did not end when students entered room quarantine. Testing delays and challenges with meal deliveries intensified an already fraught process. 

Unlike in the fall when Middlbury kept dining halls open while simultaneously delivering meals to students in room quarantine, the college anticipates the two-day schedule will allow them to simplify meal logistics. 

Many students enrolled last semester were frustrated by testing delays that kept them confined to their rooms far longer than the expected 24-hour period. Although the college has continued its partnership with the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., Director of Health Services Mark Peluso anticipates a lower risk of delays now that the lab has a semester of experience under its belt.