The University of Vermont and the state Department of Health are working with the Vermont National Guard to set up an on-campus testing site for students as they begin to return to Burlington on June 1.
Many off-campus leases begin that day, and the city and UVM are expecting students, a majority from out of state, to start streaming back into town. Officials and city residents have expressed concerns that those students could bring the coronavirus back with them.
Out-of-state students, like anyone returning to Vermont, must quarantine for 14 days — meaning stay on their property — before venturing out. Mayor Miro Weinberger said during a briefing Friday that, anticipating difficulties, the city will implement a "supportive quarantine" service for housebound students.
The program will also be available to other Burlington residents who return from out of state, such as second-home owners or snowbirds.
The city will check in regularly with those who voluntarily sign up, Weinberger said. Those quarantined will receive a "welcoming care package" that contains a mask and "hygiene supplies." Weinberger alluded to "incentives" for those who stick with the quarantine rules, though he didn't specify them. A website with more details is expected to go live in the coming days, the mayor said.
After seven days in quarantine, students will be able to go get tested for the coronavirus. A negative result would mean they can end their quarantine early, Weinberger said.
The Burlington Police Department will conduct "noise patrols" during the first few weeks of the move-in period, Weinberger said. Officers will also be educating students to ensure they're "aware of the governor's rules and are complying with them," the mayor said.
UVM is expected to communicate the rules to its students, while the city pledged to "enlist property owners' help in urging students to comply."
Joining Weinberger on the virtual briefing were UVM president Suresh Garimella and Gary Derr, UVM's vice president for operations and public safety.
"Things will not be the same. The fall semester will not be like any other fall that our students have seen," Garimella said. "But we will ensure that everyone involved is provided the safest on-campus environment possible."
Derr outlined some of the broader protocols that UVM is exploring ahead of the fall semester. He said a campus-wide assessment of classrooms is under way to determine whether physical distancing requirements can be met in various spaces.
Some larger classes might still be held remotely, while others could be a mix of remote and in-person. Classes could start earlier in the day and end later, or there could even be weekend sessions, Derr said.
There's a possibility that in-person instruction would end ahead of Thanksgiving, on November 20, so students could leave and not return until the next semester, in January. That would require students to finish fall semester work and exams remotely.
Derr also said that all UVM employees are currently required to wear face coverings and students will likely have to, as well.
The university may update its vaccination requirements, "particularly around flu," Derr said, "and whether that might help us in identifying potential cases of COVID-19 as opposed to what would be routine and seasonal flu viruses."
He also mentioned potential plans to thin out residence halls by "exploring options in Burlington to house students off campus, which would make possibilities for quarantine space on campus."
Any decision to house more students off campus could prove controversial, as the city and UVM have had a long-simmering debate on the issue because of the pressures it puts on the local housing market. Asked about it later, Weinberger said nothing was set in stone, though he expected the city to be a part of any future discussions.
"We are in very unusual times. We are in a pandemic," Weinberger said. "I respect that UVM has new challenges, and I think it's incumbent upon us all to try to sort them out together."
Campus is still closed, Derr said, but a phased reopening will begin this summer. Some employees might continue to work remotely, or rotate, to reduce the number of people on campus at one time.
In other news, the city announced that North Beach will open to the public on Saturday. No gatherings of more than 10 people in a group are allowed, and each group must keep six feet away from any other group.
Bathrooms will be open, though users are encouraged to wear a mask when entering them. Lifeguards will not be on duty and the snack bar will not be open. Parking will be free this weekend but fees will likely be in place by the next.