Vermont announced Tuesday mandatory guidance and health protocols for colleges and universities to follow — including a health safety contract for staff and students to sign — as they reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The guidance, developed by a task force, includes initial quarantines for students arriving from certain areas of the country, testing of all students and staff at the start of the school year, and the use of face coverings while around others in public. The density of classrooms and dining halls also must be reduced.
“The state of Vermont aims to make Vermont the safest place to go to college,” said former Norwich University President Richard Schneider, who chairs the task force.
The academic calendar also will likely change with students going home at Thanksgiving and returning later in the spring, he said.
“Because we don’t want them traveling for a week and then coming back and then we’re starting all over again with everybody being quarantined again," he said.
Students and staff face discipline if they do not abide by the signed contract, which states that they are willing to abide by the state's and institutions' virus-related restrictions. Schools will enforce the contracts and students who violate major health components, like quarantine requirements, shall be immediately removed from campus for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, the guidance states.
The discipline is up to and including termination for employees and up to and including dismissal for students, Schneider said.
“I think what we’re about to do is change what’s normal and how to affect behavior," he said. There's enough staff to get the message across to students and hold them accountable and students must also hold each other accountable, he said.
"It has to be not cool to be doing bad things that could risk other peoples' lives," Schneider said.
In other coronavirus developments:
ECONOMIC RECOVERY GRANTS
About 2,300 Vermont businesses applied for economic recovery grants after the program opened on Monday, Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein on Tuesday.
The federal funding allocated by the legislature is for businesses hurt by the pandemic.
Money for the businesses that applied through the Tax Department is expected to go out first, Goldstein said. The 1,300 applications to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development are going through a two-step process to verify the information submitted, she said.
Errors are being found in some applications and those businesses will be contacted to make sure the information is submitted correctly, she said. The payments from the agency are expected to start going in several weeks, she said.
Vermont reported three new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday for a total of 1,254 reported cases so far. The number of total deaths remained at 56. A total of 1,039 people have recovered from COVID-19, according to the Health Department.
Recent outbreaks have not markedly changed, he said.
The Winooski-Burlington outbreak now includes 116 reported cases and "is clearly not over but neither is it expanding substantially,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. The Fair Haven area and Windham County, where there have been outbreaks, have not had any new cases thanks in part to contract tracing, he said.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.