University of Vermont

UVM Celebrates Milestone in COVID-19 Testing, As St. Mike's Works to Contain Outbreak

Both Vermont schools see a mix of testing and prevention measures as important to public health

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The University of Vermont Tuesday tallied its 100,000th COVID-19 test conducted on campus, crediting a combination of prevention efforts and aggressive testing for allowing the school to reopen and stay open safely this semester.

"This is what it means to be a good citizen, and you've demonstrated this at a time when good citizenship is especially important," Suresh Garimella told students of UVM, thanking them for recognizing how serious it is to wear masks, avoid crowds, wash their hands a lot, and participate in testing.

More than 10,000 tests are conducted weekly on campus, according to the university.

Garimella estimated the cost at $8-10 million for the fall semester, in an opinion piece he wrote in August for the publication Inside Higher Ed.

Along with prevention measures, aggressive testing helped the school achieve a coronavirus positivity rate of less than a hundredth of one percent last week, the school said Tuesday.

For first-year student Julia Miller of Arlington, Massachusetts, the weekly test has become a ritual she welcomes.

"I'm so happy we've been able to be here so long," Miller told NECN, describing how the tests have allowed in-person learning to continue for some of her courses.

Miller and other students use an app to report any changes in their health, then blow their noses—a key step before swabbing their nostrils for the COVID-19 test.

"It's really inspiring to be part of a student body that's doing so well," Miller said.

Widespread testing is also planned in the coming days at nearby St. Michael's College in Colchester, where more than two dozen active COVID cases have forced the campus into remote learning mode. Sick students are in isolation and many activities like athletics are canceled.

Students have also been directed not to leave the SMC campus, according to an announcement from that school's president.

The St. Mike's cases are among a handful of outbreaks across Vermont linked to small gatherings of friends where one was infected but didn't yet know it, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

"The college's response has been quite admirable in how they've approached things," Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said of St. Michael's. "It's essentially a quarantined campus, and I think they're all behaving responsibly at this time."

Back at UVM, the school celebrated its 100,000th campus test by awarding a massive nasal swab to a first-year representing the student body.

Burlington's mayor joined Garimella in praising UVM students for their focus on how personal actions affect public health in the community.

"It happens a lot in college towns that there are complaints about student behavior," Mayor Miro Weinberger observed. "And I think there has not been enough attention on what a great job UVM students have done throughout the time they have been back."

Julia Miller said she wants her fellow Catamounts to not get complacent, indicating they should be aware that with cases rising around the region and country, the rest of their academic year could depend on continued vigilance.

"I just hope we keep up the good work," Miller said.

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