Education

In first month of school, University of Vermont records 85 positive Covid cases

The University of Vermont’s Old Mill in Burlington in July 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Updated at 6:44 p.m.

University of Vermont officials say the highly contagious Delta variant is likely driving Covid-19 case growth at a rate surpassing last year’s. 

The university has so far recorded 83 Covid cases during the first month of on-campus activity among a largely vaccinated student population, according to data published by the school. That’s compared to 102 student cases for the entire Fall 2020 semester before vaccines were available, according to university spokesperson Enrique Corredera. 

This fall’s Covid numbers remain far below the 697 student cases UVM recorded during the Spring 2021 semester, when most students remained ineligible for the jab. 

UVM required this semester that students be vaccinated against Covid to attend school, with exemptions allowed on religious and medical grounds. Out of 13,826 students, only 214 — or 1.5% of the population — have been granted such exemptions, according to the university.

In addition to this semester’s cases among students — including 59 who live off campus and 24 who live on campus — two staff members have tested positive, according to the university. There have been no cases recorded among faculty. 

Corredera said this semester’s case growth is “relatively small” and should be considered in context. 

“In Fall 2020 there was no highly transmissible variant of the virus, versus Spring 2021 when variants were circulating and vaccines were not available for most of the semester, versus Fall 2021 with the highly transmissible Delta variant in circulation and widespread vaccination,” he said in an email to VTDigger. 

Corredera said that while the Delta variant may be driving new cases, evidence shows that Covid vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from developing severe symptoms if they’re infected. He said a very small percentage of students who have tested positive so far have experienced symptoms. 

Last academic year, UVM required all students to submit to regular Covid testing in an effort to contain case spread. When cases spiked in the Spring semester, weekly testing was upped to twice a week

This academic year, testing is no longer required for students who are vaccinated, although it remains available on campus. Students who are not vaccinated under these exemptions are required to submit to weekly testing, according to the UVM website

While faculty and staff are not currently subjected to a vaccination mandate, Corredera said all employees are “expected” to receive the vaccine. (President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees is also likely to apply to the university.) Corredera said over 90% of employees are thought to be vaccinated based on estimates from the Vermont Department of Health.

Corredera said that the university continues to follow guidance from public health experts and that UVM’s current mitigation measures are appropriate. 

“These measures are giving us the ability to offer close to a back-to-normal, on-campus, in-person, high-quality educational experience,” Corredera said. 

When asked about the current case rates on campus at a Wednesday press conference at UVM’s Davis Center, university president Suresh Garimella said he thought the return to campus was going “remarkably well.” 

He pointed to the campus community’s high vaccination rates and indoor mask requirement as positive signs that UVM community members were continuing to take the pandemic seriously, unlike other parts of the country. 

“I would say it has exceeded expectations,” Garimella said of the return to campus. “And I have very high expectations.” 

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Grace Elletson

About Grace

Grace Elletson is VTDigger's government accountability reporter, covering politics, state agencies and the Legislature. She is part of the BOLD Women's Leadership Network and a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where she was editor in chief of the Ithacan. She previously interned for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Christian Science Monitor and The Cape Cod Times, her hometown newspaper.

Email: [email protected]

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