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While Middlebury is testing less than other NESCAC schools, the college’s Covid-19 prevention plan is comparable to other schools in Vermont.
Vermont college students arrived in early September eager for the start of a new academic year. Following a year and a half of limited socializing and strict safety precautions, many were more than ready for a return to pre-pandemic life. Students’ expectations of this so-called “return to normalcy” remained relatively high throughout the summer as a result of increasing vaccination rates and relaxed Covid-19 restrictions across many states.
In early August, Middlebury College issued an email detailing the Covid-19 protocols for the fall 2021 semester. Although the email described the Middlebury community as “mask friendly,” it did not institute any formal limits on gathering sizes or maskless interactions.
A few days later, in light of the rise in Covid-19 cases as a result of the spread of the Delta variant, a second email was circulated outlining stricter safety protocols. The second email emphasized the necessity of protecting students, faculty and staff at the college, as well as the inhabitants of the town itself. In order to achieve these goals, masks were to be worn indoors, as was the case in the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters.
This retreat to more stringent Covid-19 restrictions paralleled a similar trend nationwide. Many colleges in the country had re-mandated masking indoors by the middle of August. At this point, Middlebury’s policies were in line with the majority of these institutions.
Another facet of pandemic-era campus safety varies more noticeably among schools: testing policies. Although the other NESCAC schools have more robust testing plans in place than Middlebury does, Middlebury’s plan remains comparable to those of other Vermont institutions.
Middlebury is the only NESCAC school not testing all students at least once per week, with most schools testing all students once or twice per week.
Only symptomatic students and unvaccinated individuals, travelers and in-season varsity athletes are being regularly tested at Middlebury. Students who feel unwell are advised to get themselves tested.
“A limited number of test slots are available for asymptomatic students each week,” said Media Relations Director Sarah Ray, speaking on behalf of the Parton Center for Health and Wellness.
At the University of Vermont (UVM), an institution four times the size of Middlebury, tests are also available for the student body. “Fully vaccinated students may test if they wish to do so. We continue to see a relatively small number of SARS-CoV-2 cases on our campus,” said Enrique Corredera, UVM Public Relations representative.
UVM has adopted Covid-19 prevention policies consistent with those enforced at Middlebury. All students, apart from those with religious or medical exemptions, were required to obtain the vaccine before returning to campus this fall. Exempt students living on campus must comply with weekly testing procedures.
The UVM community expects to continue seeing positive cases due to the Delta variant, but Corredera maintains a positive outlook on the long-term situation.
“Thankfully, we also know that vaccines remain very effective at preventing severe Covid-19,” he said.
Other Vermont colleges have implemented policies analogous to those seen at Middlebury and UVM. The Covid-19 vaccine is also required at both St. Michael's college and Champlain College this fall. Similar to Middlebury, neither school is enforcing surveillance testing, although symptomatic students may request tests. Unvaccinated members of the college community must undergo periodic testing, solidifying this rule as a constant among the four institutions.
According to Ray, if Middlebury were to see an uptick in Covid-19 cases in the coming weeks, the college would respond by making adjustments to its prevention policies. The college’s contingency plan accounts for the severity of the outbreak and includes the possibilities of expanding testing protocols, limiting travel to Addison County or the state of Vermont and/or implementing a campus-wide quarantine for a period of time, Ray said.
“[The college is] prepared to ramp up testing even further in response to increased prevalence of Covid-19. But we know that the best current course of action is for all students, faculty and staff to follow the protocols in place to prevent an outbreak,” Ray said.
A recent advisory to faculty, staff and students provided an updated set of guidelines for Covid-19 prevention this fall.
“Our focus is on prevention and asking students, staff and faculty to make decisions that help keep them and our campus community healthy,” said Dr. Mark Peluso, chief health officer and college physician.
As students returned last month to a new semester in disparate capacities, 85 have chosen to live off campus in the town of Middlebury. Facing increased surveillance and most of the same restrictions as other students, some say that life off campus, at least during Phase One, is more stressful.
During the summer months, students were mindful of respecting and protecting the Middlebury community while retaining a sense of normalcy in their ability to leave their homes and visit both town and the surrounding areas, according to Chris Gernon ’21.
“I would work from nine to four and then would go to a swimming hole or to Lake Dunmore,” said Van Lundsgaard ’21, who moved back to Middlebury in June.
Conditions changed, however, in late August, when the college followed through on its decision to welcome back its full student body — excluding those who chose to pursue a fully online experience — to campus.
Gernon and Lundsgaard live in a house on Weybridge Street, along with three other seniors and two senior febs. Like the rest of the off-campus students, they are only able to travel to and from campus. No guests, whether from the community or campus itself, are allowed in their home.
Since they aren’t on the meal plan and are not allowed to visit grocery stores, stocking up on groceries was an essential part of preparations for the college’s reopening. Delivery services have become a necessity as well — many of the town’s most popular restaurants offer meal deliveries, and Instacart, an online grocery-ordering service, has quickly gained popularity.
While on-campus students must adhere to a strict set of guidelines, their off-campus counterparts face a reality of rules that are equally unyielding. “For the most part, it feels like we are living in a normal house until we leave the house,” Lundsgaard said.
In fact, life might be more stressful as off-campus students, with “not getting in trouble with the college,” as Gernon puts it, becoming a large component of their respective experiences.
Some feel that the college is policing off-campus students more harshly and to a greater extent than the on-campus students. “The college seems to be more concerned with optics than actual health protocols,” Lundsgaard said.
Students living off campus are subject to the eye of the public, or at least the community of Middlebury and the greater Addison County. College administrators regularly patrol the off-campus housing areas, even stopping by to check on individual living spaces. While this security detail is “very nice,” it can sometimes become overwhelming, Lundsgaard said.
“[Students] have seen in-town community members be accosted by security guards,” he continued. These guards demand to know where each person is going, inquiring after their adherence to campus quarantine, Lundsgaard said.
But while off-campus college life has been drastically impacted by Covid-19 and subsequent college-issued restrictions, students remain focused on the positive aspects of their current experience.
“Thanks to my friends’ enthusiasm and positive attitudes, I have not minded hanging out six feet [apart] or being ‘stuck’ with my roommates at home,” Emily Allardi ’21 said. Allardi lives on Cross Street, near the small roundabout in town.
The realities of this semester have deviated from her expectations as well. She imagined that wearing a mask and “being safe” would be the only restrictions on her life, and that, come fall, she would still be able to go to the grocery store and exercise outside in town.
But the unexpectedly limiting protocols enforced in the last few weeks have inspired her to “[take] full advantage of [the college’s] beautiful campus.” She has run the TAM trail for the first time and enjoys visiting the organic garden and taking in the views.
In terms of outlook for the future, off-campus students are hopeful. The college announced on Monday that the transition into Phase Two will take place on Thursday, Sept. 17, meaning students residing both on and off campus will be allowed to leave campus then. However, students are still not permitted to visit off-campus residences.
“I think [the plan] is effective and the best way to make sure the town is safe,” Lundsgaard said.
Gernon agreed, saying that, “gradually lifting restrictions seems like the best way to ensure everyone is safe while following the rules.”
Among the handful of food retailers located in Middlebury, Hannaford Supermarket has run into its share of unexpected struggles and setbacks caused by Vermont’s outbreak of Covid-19.
“If you were to tell me three weeks ago that I would be operating my business the way I am today, I would have laughed,” Middlebury Hannaford Store Manager Tom Seigle said.
Seigle said the store has faced historic sales increases of 60–90% compared to the same weeks last year, and is currently processing an average of 2,000 customers per day. According to Seigle, customers are mainly interested in items with long shelf lives: dried beans, canned meats, frozen veggies, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels and first aid supplies. These items have been in highest demand and are reportedly the most difficult to keep in stock.
Seigle noted that while the doomsday-type prepping has come to a halt, customers continue to purchase more groceries than usual because restaurants are closed and children who normally attend school are home.
To maintain control over its products, the store has limited certain food categories to two items per customer and added additional deliveries to its calendar. For safety reasons, it has opted to discontinue all self-serve options such as sliced deli meats, the salad bar, fresh seafood and all bulk foods. Hannaford has also asked its customers to shop individually, even as employees continue to see entire families and groups of friends entering at once to do their shops.
Seigle reported that many salaried associates have worked nonstop for three weeks in a row — without a day off. Part-time employees are working 40-plus hours a week, with most accepting overtime shifts. However, facing Covid-19 realities, many have also cut back hours or removed themselves from work entirely. Hannaford temporarily paused its attendance policy to make it optional for staff to attend work shifts.
“Many of our at-risk employees have taken themselves out of work, and many parents have also taken themselves out of work because their children are out of school,” Seigle said.
In response to the many community members rendered unemployed due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Hannaford has been hiring temporary staff members. “Applicants are not exactly lining up at the door, though, because of the known exposure of grocery store workers,” Seigle said.
Seigle also expressed extreme gratitude for his team. “We face a panicked public everyday and this has been stressful on my team, but they still stand beside me,” he said. “Customers shopping in masks and gloves, gas masks and respirators is something we have never dealt with. Each one of my associates is a hero and they battle an invisible enemy each and every day. I can't thank them enough.”
The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op on Washington Street has experienced customer behavior that mirrors that at Hannaford. Karin Mott, the Co-op’s marketing, education and membership manager, noted an increased desire among customers for shelf-stable products that have generated supply deficits. Like Hannaford, the Co-op is taking a day-by-day approach and planning as far in advance as possible to avoid future complications.
Employees are also working to prevent spread of the virus through increased sanitation measures. “We’ve done a lot around the store in terms of sanitation, going above and beyond regular cleaning,” Mott said. “All people, including customers, are required to wear gloves. Also, we’ve suspended the use of containers and bags from home and instead use single-use bags and boxes.”
[pullquote speaker="Tom Seigle, Hannaford store manager" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]Each one of my associates is a hero and they battle an invisible enemy each and every day. I can't thank them enough.[/pullquote]
Teresa Edington, external communication and community relations manager at Shaw’s supermarket in Middlebury, explained that the store has faced similar challenges. “As we all continue to navigate through this public health crisis together, Shaw’s and Star Market are continuing to do everything we can to prioritize the health and safety of our customers, our communities and our associates, and to ensure our customers have access to the food, medications and other essential goods they need at this critical time,” she said.
The location has added certain precautionary measures to its storefront to prevent the spread of disease, including the installation of plexiglass, the implementation of CDC Cleanliness Guidelines and the usage of social distancing practices in all departments. “We are constantly looking for solutions to help us improve this practice in our stores,” Edington said. “We thank our customers for their patience and understanding during this critical time.”
Hannaford, the Natural Foods Co-op and Shaw’s will all remain open seven days a week, each reserving certain morning hours for the elderly and other high-risk community members. At Hannaford, these special hours take place on Tuesday and Thursday from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.; at the Co-op, they will take place during the first hour of each day; at Shaw’s, they are held on Tuesday and Thursday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
Click here for the status of other food industry businesses in Middlebury.
Bundle hosted the second installment of the Middlebury Underground storytelling series on Friday, Jan. 24, where students, professors and locals shared short, Moth-style stories. The subject of these stories was love, chosen by organizers Lisa Mitchell, Matt Laux and Kelly Hickey.
“The theme of love is special because it takes so many forms,” said Mitchell. “[It includes everything from] more classic romantic interpretation to the unconditional love for a child to the adoration of a personal obsession.” Mitchell said that organizers chose to punctuate the title of the series “Love, Really.?!” to allow for different interpretations of the term.
Organizers anticipated that the event would differ from the first storytelling function hosted in November. For example, organizers arranged to have an emcee, Judd Markowski, play an accordion between speakers.
The food, camaraderie and stories attracted people from all corners of the Middlebury community. “I love the Moth and have always wanted to attend a live storytelling event on a larger scale,” said Asa Waterworth, an admissions counselor at Middlebury College. “Plus, they have bread and brie.”
The event encouraged many modes of artistic expression, from literal storytelling to musical performances. As the night progressed, storytellers and artists touched on themes of personal reflection, enduring bonds, courageous risk-taking, and spontaneous adventures.
“There is a magical quality to bringing this community together in an intimate setting and hearing people’s unique voices and candid stories,” Mitchell said. “The honesty and vulnerability of the presenters is powerful. We’re always awestruck by the quality and variety of the storytelling.”
Storyteller Kelly Hickey revealed her hilarious, somewhat embarrassing obsession with Peeps candy, describing how both neighbors and friends expressed love by gifting them to her — she even likened the abundance of candy being shared to the frenzy of “zucchini season.” David Engel also discussed his love of food, offering a comedic story detailing his fondness for the Middlebury Co-op. He emphasized the love that it fosters in the community — which, in tandem with absurd products such as “male llama cheese” — has sustained him through trying times.
Betty and Victor Nuovo spoke about their 66 years of marriage, saying that “[their] favorite part of the day is lying next to each other, enjoying the feeling of ‘togetherness.’” Dave Hohenschau described how he met his current wife in the basement of their Christian Fundamentalist Church. Hee resolved to walk the Appalachian Trail for months — traveling from Maine to Vermont — in order to visit her at home. The two are now happily married.
Lianna Merrill offered an account of a failed hiking date: After her meticulously organized plan of drinking beers and watching the sun set procured little enthusiasm from her counterpart, she was left a bit “gun shy” when it came to dating in the following months. Soon after, however, she met a man who took her on a special hike, and they’ve been together ever since.
“I love the magical feeling that comes when the room fills with our community for the purpose of listening to each other’s stories,” said Laux after all of the stories had been shared. Hickey added, “these are some of the most creative and heartwarming events I’ve ever been involved with.”
Mitchell, Laux, and Hickey established these Moth-style storytelling programs as a quarterly series at Bundle. Upcoming themes may include art, creativity, and travel. The team has already begun planning events for both the spring and summer. News regarding the selected theme for the spring installment is expected soon.
Students, professors, and local residents gathered in Bundle — a pop-up event space in downtown Middlebury — to kick off a new storytelling series hosted by Middlebury Underground last Friday, Nov. 1. This storytelling series, aptly titled “Memorable Dishes,” offered hours of stories and free “local bites” sourced from nearby farms and organizations. “[Midd Underground] has long wanted to host a moth-style storytelling event of this kind,” said Lisa Mitchell, fine dining chef, culinary event producer and one of the program’s organizers. She had been envisioning the appeal of a storytelling evening about the various lives of people in Middlebury.
The goal of these events, according to Mitchell, is bringing the community together around storytelling, which is “an intimate kind of connection.”
A brainstorming group, consisting of Bundle manager and creator Kelly Hickey, community member Matt Laux, and Mitchell herself, chose food as the topic of the stories. The challenge? Participants were tasked with sharing their “best five-minute tale” about food. In a note to the storytellers, Midd Underground described food as “fuel, culture, religion and customs.” Food was chosen as the topic because it can forge connections among people, the ultimate purpose of the storytelling series.
“[Food] connects us all and evokes so many sense memories, traditions, and stories of origin,” Mitchell said.
Becky Strum and her husband, parents of a Middlebury graduate, heard about the event both in a local newspaper and through word of mouth in the nearby community. According to Strum, the idea of food and stories seemed “extremely appealing” to both of them. This sentiment was shared by over 100 other guests, whose energetic conversations filled the room as they swarmed the table filled with organic vegetables, cheese and even a selection of homemade breads and sauces.
Nearby residents weren’t the only attendees. Natalie Figueroa ’18 currently works in Middlebury’s admissions office and enjoys interacting with this close-knit community in which she lives. She arrived at the event in order to hear her co-worker speak, but stayed for the food and conversation. Students of the college, families, and even professors attended this storytelling series emphasizing the importance of community at Middlebury and how the connections that exist between these people can be strengthened by food —both of the physical and the written variety.
The stories shared were “evocative and powerful,” Mitchell said. Themes of forging connections with others through cooking, embarking on culinary adventures and embracing the comfort of a familiar dish emerged throughout the night.
Storyteller Laura Thomas spoke of the day she worked with an elderly alzheimer’s patient to make pickles — and how, although the finished product was nearly inedible, the experience cheered and motivated the patient. Annette Franklin revealed that she learned to cook Ethiopian cuisine to welcome an adopted member of her family who hailed from the country. Doug Engell recalled a “lobster feast to remember,” the final, beautiful meal he shared with his family following his wife’s diagnosis with liver cancer.
Other speakers shared tales of adventure and risk. Gretchen Ayer talked about a coworker’s comical battle with a seemingly-unswallowable piece of octopus sashimi. Becky Kincaid spoke of a delicious meal she shared with members of a friendly Kurdish village, which incidentally landed her, gravely ill, in a Turkish hospital. Andy Mitchell gave detailed accounts of the outlandish foods he has consumed from chipmunks to insects. He also described a particularly memorable banquet of excess research specimens in Greenland that included priceless caviar and narwhal steaks.
Some storytellers spoke fondly of a favorite food. Jesse Gilette praised the special “doner kebab” that can only be found in Berlin and whose flavors are unreplicatable in any other location — even the esteemed Great Bazaar. Anna Sun spoke of her love-hate relationship with her father’s special salt-duck recipe that required the dead animal to dry, hanging, for three months alongside the family’s laundry. And Jess Danyow gushed about popcorn, the perfect bitesize snack that she enjoys as she reads novels and escapes from reality.
Mitchell’s story was a particularly special one. As a young woman living in Boston, she decided to seize an opportunity to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional chef. Soon, the excruciating training and “hazing” from other chefs began to take their toll, but she refused to give up. With the unexpected help of a seasoned, tough-as-nails ex-con, she improved her knife skills and cooking techniques. She even threw “dinner parties” with her new friend. Mitchell noted that this man used cooking as an escape from his difficult past. Although she doesn’t keep in contact with him today, she wishes him well and will always be grateful for his aid and support. Mitchell’s story was the perfect culmination to the night, including elements of connection, risk-taking and true love for food.
Midd Underground is looking forward to offering this series on a quarterly basis. They have many ideas “in the works,” according to Mitchell. News regarding the theme of the winter installment is expected soon.