Students quarantined for Covid-19 violations regardless of evidence of exposure

By Sophia McDermott-Hughes

Courtesy Photo
Several on-campus buildings have been repurposed as quarantine and isolation housing this year including Adirondack House (above), which usually functions as the Center for Careers and Internships.

Middlebury students have become accustomed to quarantining when they have been exposed to Covid-19 or as a preemptive move-in measure, but a new and unannounced policy temporarily places students into quarantine housing after they’ve committed Covid-19 policy violations if those violations included high-risk behavior.  

This new measure, which Dean of Students Derek Doucet said has impacted around a dozen individuals, puts students in quarantine for Covid-19 protocol violations that the Office of Community Standards deems “a credible allegation of behavior that might lead to transmission.” Doucet said that the policy is designed to combat potential public health risks. 

The policy

The college enacted the policy of quarantining students who violated Covid-19 guidelines at the beginning of this semester, according to Doucet. Administrators realized that existing disciplinary procedures did not take into account the immediate public health risk posed by certain types of Covid-19 protocol violations like large gatherings in small spaces without masks. 

“When we have those incidents, we’re really worried about the possibility of exposure and transmission, and so we ask those students to go into quarantine as a public health measure,” Doucet said. “It’s not intended as a punitive measure.” 

Though this policy has reportedly been in place for months, the college never informed the student body of its implementation. 

While the Spring Campus Guide Conduct Expectations section does inform students that they must “participate in isolation and quarantine when directed,” it does not mention the possibility of being placed in quarantine for a Covid-19 rule violation. 

Instead, the Contact Tracing, Isolation, and Quarantine section describes quarantine as “a way for individuals who may have been exposed to Covid-19 through close contact with an infected individual to limit their contact with others while it is determined whether they have Covid-19.”

Students were not placed in quarantine until up to two days following their violation. Doucet says administrators try to process Covid-19 conduct incident reports and meet with students within the first two days of the incident because “the science suggests that the chance of passing on the virus remains low in that time period.” Students may then be instructed to complete a quarantine if it is found that there is a credible allegation that the student engaged in unsafe behavior. 

Unlike students under quarantine as close contacts, who are tested separately at Parton to avoid exposure to other students and in accordance with the exact timing of their day-seven tests, students quarantined for violations are tested at the Virtue Field House during the normal testing times with the rest of the student body, according to Environmental Health and Safety Coordinator Jennifer Kazmeirczak.

Doucet said the discrepancy is “related to a different level of perceived risk.”

“Quarantining students who have violated the covid guidelines is done out of an abundance of caution because of the heightened chance of exposure. Quarantining close contacts is done when there is known exposure,” Doucet said in an email to The Campus. “Sending students with confirmed exposure into close proximity with others [at general testing] is higher risk than asking a student about whom we’re concerned about a heightened possibility of exposure.”

Students whose Day Seven test falls outside of the college’s regular testing schedule may be able to schedule a test at Parton or at the Vermont Department of Health’s Creek Road testing center in town, according to Kazmeirczak. 

Students quarantined for Covid-19 guideline violations also do not receive daily phone call check-ins from the college’s Covid Operations office asking about their health status as close contacts do. They are expected, like all students on campus, to fill out daily Policy Path health surveys for symptoms, according to Kazmeirczak. 

The college also does not extend the disciplinary amnesty policy, which allows violations revealed through contact tracing to go undisciplined, to those quarantined for Covid-19 guideline violations. Students quarantined for Covid-19 guideline violations are not asked who else attended the gathering, but if other students are revealed to have attended, they will not be exempt from disciplinary action, according to Doucet.

These students quarantining for conduct violations are not listed on the Covid-19 reporting dashboard, which only displays the number of quarantining close contacts. According to Doucet, that is not an intentional omission, and the college is “considering adding conduct-related quarantine numbers to the dash.”

A timeline of a Covid-19 violation quarantine 

The Campus spoke to 10 students who were quarantined for Covid-19 guideline violations in early March. Here’s a look at how the policy — which was confusing to many of the students quarantined under it — works.

11 p.m. Friday, March 5 – A group of 15–20 first-year students gather in the cavernous student activity room in the basement of Forest Hall on the night of Friday, March 5 to celebrate their return to campus. 

11:30 p.m. – 12 a.m. – Several Public Safety officers and Reslife staff members block two of the three entrances and demand IDs from the students. Some bolt for the open exit but others mill about in confusion, unaware that, though a sign on the wall advertised a 30-person occupancy limit, students are only able to gather outside and in groups of ten. 

DPS reports 10 students to the Office of Community Standards for Covid-19 violations.

WeekendThe cited students go to the dining halls, attend in-person classes, practice with their sports teams and spend time unmasked with close contacts.  

Monday, March 8 – Cited students attend in-person classes.

Cited students go to mandatory testing.

7 p.m – Students receive an email from Dean of Community Standards Brian Lind asking them to schedule a disciplinary meeting.

3:39 p.m. – Nine of the students receive an email from Dean of Students Derek Doucet instructing them to begin room quarantine immediately and to prepare to move into temporary housing. They receive no guidance about their roommates who had not attended the gathering, with whom they had interacted closely.

“We are concerned this gathering could have presented the opportunity for transmission of Covid-19,” Doucet writes in an email to cited students. Doucet says it was unlikely that any students were contagious yet if exposed, but that the choice to isolate students is necessary as they entered the period where transmission of the virus is most likely, had they been exposed to Covid-19 at the Forest gathering. 

One cited student reportedly receives no such email.

Midday Tuesday, March 8 – Students receive a call from Covid Operations telling them to move into quarantine housing at Porter, about three and a half days after their possible exposure Friday night. Students ask why they were being quarantined, but Covid Operations staff are reportedly not aware of the policy and unable to provide clarity. 

Covid Operations Coordinator Daniel Celik confirmed administrators had not informed them of the policy.

7 p.m. Wednesday, March 9 – Lind emails students informing them of the disciplinary decision of removal from campus held in abeyance, which means that students will likely be kicked off of campus if they commit another Covid-19 rules violation this semester. They are informed that they will be released from quarantine pending a negative test result and are reminded to get tested at Virtue Field House the next day. 

Thursday, March 10 – All students get tested at Virtue Field House alongside the rest of the student body.

Friday, March 11 – All 10 students receive negative results and expect to be released from quarantine. Upon further inquiry, they discover that this does not count as a Day Seven test, and they will have to wait until the next general testing day on Monday in order to be released on Tuesday, 11 full days after the gathering. By this point, they have already missed several in-person classes. 

Saturday, March 12 At their request, Doucet allows the students to temporarily leave quarantine and walk to the Department of Health’s Creek Road testing center in town to get tested before the next college-administered student testing day on Monday.

Morning of Sunday, March 13 – All students receive negative test results and inform Covid Operations.

4-6 p.m. Sunday, March 13 – All students are released from quarantine — nine days after the Forest Hall gathering and seven days into their quarantine. The gathering is shown to have resulted in no positive cases.