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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Students navigate recent Covid-19 surge on campus

<p>A number of students have caught Covid-19 in an outbreak across campus this fall. </p>

A number of students have caught Covid-19 in an outbreak across campus this fall.

Though many experts now consider Covid-19 to be endemic, the virus continues to impact the lives of Middlebury students this fall. Since the beginning of the semester, there has been a surge in Covid-19 infections among Middlebury students. While such an increase in cases has impacted students’ academic and social lives to varying degrees, some students told The Campus that they believe the school’s response to the surge has largely been insufficient and unhelpful. 

The college’s current Covid-19 protocols align with the most up-to-date guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recommends that anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 isolate themselves for at least 5 days after the onset of symptoms and wear a mask when they must be around others at home and in public. 

“As COVID-19 has become endemic, we have resumed normal operations, while continuing core health and safety measures to minimize the potential of its impact,” Dean of Students Derek Doucet and Associate Vice President for Student Health and Well-being Barbara McCall wrote in an email entitled “Prearrival Health Update” to students on Aug. 30.

Free masks are currently available at the Davis Family Library circulation desk and the Human Resources office in Marbleworks as long as supplies last, according to the college’s Covid-19 updates webpage. Students can pick up free test kits at the Health Center, or purchase them at Midd Express, Bi-Hall and the College Bookstore, with a limit of four tests per person. Some students said they have found the availability of supplies to be limited on campus, leading them to purchase their own masks and rapid tests. 

David Goldsmith ’23.5 said he was disappointed with the college after his recent experience having Covid-19. Goldsmith began feeling ill on Sept. 12, the second day of classes, and stayed in quarantine for six days. 

Since it was the first week of classes, Goldsmith did not feel too stressed about keeping up with work despite his absences. While one of his professors was accommodating, helping him zoom in to class, Goldsmith’s other professors left it up to him to zoom in through friends’ laptops, a task he said he likely would not have undertaken had he been a first-year student who knew fewer people in the class.

“I think the school should definitely still be offering hybrid classes. Like, they had the infrastructure at one point and I don’t necessarily think they’ve gotten rid of it. And when I was abroad, my university recorded every single lecture, and I just don’t think it would be that outrageous for Midd to consider doing something similar,” Goldsmith said. 

Amy Morsman, professor of history and first-year seminar program director, wrote in an email to The Campus that she does not expect students to attend class remotely while recovering from Covid-19. Rather, she wrote, she would prefer that students focus on feeling better physically, and then make an appointment with her to catch up on what they missed once they have recovered. 

“We all still need to operate with a generous dose of flexibility while keeping the lines of communication open,” Morsman wrote. 

Patricia Saldarriaga, professor of Luso-Hispanic Studies, said that without the school providing official numbers, she has relied on students’ emails to inform her about class absences from Covid-19, which she says will not affect their general maximum absence limit. 

During the first week of classes, Saldarriaga told her students to identify a fellow student to share notes with or to zoom each other in if one of them tests positive for Covid-19. She plans to teach online if she tests positive or experiences symptoms.

One student, who wished to remain anonymous, tested positive for Covid-19 on Sept. 16, and self-isolated until Sept. 21. The student told The Campus in an email that they found the lack of accessible supplies to be a challenge during their quarantine, forcing them to purchase their own tests and masks.

“I feel like putting the responsibility to limit the spread and protect community health on the individual student is what is contributing to this outbreak/surge on campus right now,” the student wrote.

The student added that they hope the school will start to take more responsibility in providing the necessary resources, such as tests, masks and to-go boxes in the dining hall for people infected with Covid-19.

The student also shared that they reached out to the Center for Health and Wellness for guidance when they tested positive, and received an email response within a couple of hours. They said that the Center for Health and Wellness’s email response was somewhat helpful, as they sent the student links to the most up to date CDC guidelines on self-isolation while infected with Covid-19, and answered their other questions. 

Parton Health Center told The Campus they were unable to comment on the Covid-19 surge due to time constraints. 

Similar to Goldsmith’s experience, the student added that it can often be difficult for students to attend classes while self-isolating and recovering from the virus.  

“Even though I attended all my classes via zoom and kept up with the readings, attending class via zoom was not the same as being in person and I was not prepared to take an exam so I had to get an extension for that exam,” they wrote. 

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A lack of flexibility from their professors further exacerbated the challenge of keeping up with their academic work, the student added. 

“Overall I felt like my professors were not very understanding or sympathetic and trying to keep up with academics when I was sick and even now when I feel like I am still recovering has been extremely stressful,” they wrote. “I reached out to my Dean because I was really overwhelmed with the pressure to keep up with academics while I was sick and he just said it was up to me to figure things out with each professor individually.”

Jennifer Sellers, dean of the first year experience, said that the deans support students who have Covid-19 in the same way they might if they had the flu. 

“Once students are feeling well enough to engage with their academics again, they should work with their professors directly to develop a plan to get caught up on any missed work.  What this looks like for each class will depend on the policies outlined on the course syllabi,” she wrote in an email to The Campus. 

Sellers recognized the difficulty of catching up on work while recovering from an illness, and encouraged students to utilize time management support in the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTLR) to help form plans. 

Changchang Ma ’26 has had contact with many friends who have found themselves in similar situations. Ma wrote in an email to The Campus that she believes that more communication from the administration, health center and professors would alleviate the anxiety felt by some students who contract Covid-19.

“Perhaps the college can let the professors know that students are struggling with Covid-19… and ask them to be more understanding with students during this period of time,” Ma wrote.

Editor’s note: Managing Editor Katie Futterman ’24 and Editor in Chief Maggie Reynolds ’24 contributed reporting. 

Changchang Ma ’26 is an online editor for The Campus.