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State Unveils Rules For College Campus Reopenings This Fall

A man in a suit and tie stands at a podium with a screen behind him.
ORCA Media
Gov. Phil Scott speaking at a press conference on Tuesday. Scott and leaders from the state's higher education instituions annouced new rules for brining students back to campus this fall.

Vermont colleges will be required to follow a series of guidelines in order to hold in-person classes this fall, including mandatory COVID-19 testing for all students.

Gov. Phil Scott and leaders of Vermont’s institutes of higher education announced the new rules during Scott’s now twice-weekly press conference on Tuesday.

“While in-person connection to teachers and classmates is especially important for our younger students, it’s also critical as we teach and train our future workforce in our institutions of higher education,” Scott said. “As you might imagine, there are many unique challenges to accomplishing this.”

More from Vermont Edition: Vermont Deputy Health Commissioner On Staying Safe This Summer

Those challenges include managing the return of up to 56,000 students, many of whom are coming from states that have higher rates of COVID-19 than Vermont. Colleges will also have to find ways to reduce density in dining halls and dorms.

"So we will have a great idea then of how the college melting pot, if you will, of people coming in from various places looks at that point," - Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of Health

Mandatory quarantines

The new rules largely focus on three areas: reducing the risk of infected individuals arriving on campuses, mitigating the potential spread of the virus and containing outbreaks.

All out-of-state students returning to colleges and universities will be required to quarantine, either in their home state or upon arrival in Vermont. Those who travel in a private vehicle from "non-quarantine counties" as defined by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development on August 1 will not be required to quarantine. All students, regardless of where they come from, will be tested for COVID-19 once they arrive — and then again after seven days.

"So we will have a great idea then of how the college melting pot, if you will, of people coming in from various places looks at that point,” Health Commissioner Mark Levine said.

New measures taken on-campus

Facial coverings and physical distancing will be required in public spaces, and everyone on campus must complete daily health screenings before “interacting with anyone on campus.”

Institutions will need a place to quarantine up to 5% of their population if clusters of the virus appear, and they’ll also need a contingency plan for remote learning and quarantining parts or all of their campuses.

More from NPR: Aerosols, Droplets, Fomites: What We Know About Transmission Of COVID-19

Another requirement is that all students, facility and staff must sign a pledge agreeing to follow public health measures.

Rich Schneider, former president of Norwich University and chair of the group that developed the new rules, said, “Anyone that breaches the guidelines … would be immediately disciplined.”

Schneider said discipline could go as far as expulsion for students, and staff being fired.

Code of conduct for off-campus behavior

The University of Vermont is already asking students who have returned to Burlington for the summer to sign its “Green and Gold Promise” — a code of conduct that requires students to “responsibly protect my health and the health of others.”

"It's a promise that comes with sanctions. And... the sanctions go from warnings all the way to expulsion." - Suresh Garimella, president of the University of Vermont

Concerns have been raised in recent weeks that UVM students returning to the city in June did not get tested at high enough rates and that many students aren’t following public health guidelines.

More from VPR: Unclear If Returning UVM Students Are Following Public Health Guidance

UVM officials have defended their testing rates and said that fewer students moved back to Burlington this summer than in the past, though it’s unclear exactly how many returned in June.

UVM President Suresh Garimella said the “Green and Gold Promise,” which was sent to off-campus students on Tuesday, would help address behavioral concerns.

“It’s a promise that comes with sanctions,” he said. “And … the sanctions go from warnings all the way to expulsion.”

Liam is a reporter based in Burlington and covers a variety of issues, including courts, law enforcement and housing.
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