BREAKING: UVM expands quarantine housing as cases near 100 for the semester

Mery+Hall%2C+a+residential+building+on+Trinity+campus+is+where+quarantining+students+are+being+moved.

Ivy Kirby

Mery Hall, a residential building on Trinity campus is where quarantining students are being moved.

The University of Vermont is adding an additional on-campus location to quarantine students after nearly 80 tested positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks of the semester.

In an email sent Sunday evening to UVM students, Gary Derr, VP for operations and public safety, stated that UVM is adding a quarantine space in Mercy Hall to curb the spread of COVID-19 amongst the student population. 

The move to Trinity Campus will displace the 62 students living in the hall and place the majority of UVM students, in quarantine, on the outskirts of UVM’s campus, closer to Burlington residences. 

Derr stated in the email that providing more quarantine space is “critical,” to addressing COVID-19 at the University. 

“The provision of quarantine space, combined with rigorous contact tracing, is critical to successfully containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the residence halls,” Derr stated.

The announcement came after 36 on-campus and 10 off-campus students tested positive for the virus between Feb. 8 and Feb. 14. The week before, 32 students tested positive for the virus. 

Only 99 students tested positive for the virus in all of the first semester, meaning if only 22 student positive test results are reported in this week’s testing cycle released Monday evening, UVM will surpass last semester’s case count in just the third week. 

However, school officials maintain that their COVID-19 mitigation strategy is effective and successful. 

The Feb. 21 email also noted that more than half of last week’s new positive student cases were already in quarantine when their status was confirmed. 

“And, while this move will not affect a large proportion of our community, it’s important for you to be aware of recent changes,” he stated.

In a Feb. 17 email, following rising student and parent concerns voiced during a UVM Strong meeting the Thursday before over increasing cases, Vice Provost Patricia Prelock and Derr defended the school’s “aggressive surveillance testing program.”

The Feb. 17 email also announced that UVM has now begun using rapid testing in certain instances to supplement weekly PCR testing. 

Derr and Prelock emphasized the success of UVM’s testing strategy, stating that UVM’s on-campus COVID-19 tests account for almost 23% of all tests administered in the state since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The email did indicate that despite the University’s touted success, UVM is still struggling with student compliance.

“The combination of masking and distancing and avoiding social gatherings works,” the email stated. “Most of the positives we have seen appear to be the result of lapses in following these basic protocols.”

In addition to defending the University’s success following rising concern from UVM students and parents over the numbers, the Feb. 17 email also reiterated the importance of following COVID-19 safety precautions.

“We write now both to put that number in perspective, but also, importantly, to remind everyone of the critical importance of all COVID protocols,” they stated. “Now is not the time to let our defenses down but rather to recommit even more strongly to our shared goal of another successful semester.” 

Derr and Prelock also acknowledged that many students and community members have inquired about UVM reaching isolation and quarantine housing capacity, but the email stated this is not the case.

“We can assure you that we have not reached capacity,” the Feb.17 email stated. “And that we have taken action between semesters to improve the experience for our students.”

Finally, the email also encouraged students to get vaccinated as soon as they can, although the state and University have failed to provide detail on how student vaccination roll-out will proceed

“Getting the population vaccinated is a critical step in bringing the pandemic to an end,” they stated. “Additional information about vaccines is available at the Vermont Department of Health vaccine webpage and from the CDC’s vaccination webpage.”