Norwich University Lets Students Leave Amid 'Unsustainably High' COVID-19 Rate | Off Message

Norwich University Lets Students Leave Amid 'Unsustainably High' COVID-19 Rate

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SEAN METCALF ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sean Metcalf ©️ Seven Days
Norwich University will refund room and board for students who decide to leave campus after dozens of COVID-19 cases derailed the start of the spring semester.

In a video message posted Wednesday evening, President Mark Anarumo blamed the outbreak on "egregious and frankly embarrassing" behavior by students that led to "unreasonably and unsustainably high" levels of infection.

Effective immediately, Anarumo said, "I will support a voluntary departure of any student who does not believe they want to be here, whether because the value is not what they expected, or because they feel unsafe."



More than 80 students out of a residential and commuter population of roughly 1,900 at the private military college have tested positive since they returned to campus earlier this month, according to Norwich's COVID-19 dashboard. Another 87 students are quarantining due to possible exposure.

Norwich recorded only 16 positive tests during the entire fall semester.

State health officials have said they expect to see a larger number of cases at Vermont colleges this semester because the prevalence of the virus in surrounding communities is higher than in the fall. A Wednesday presentation by state officials identified 118 new cases among all colleges last week — more than double the highest weekly total last fall — even though many had yet to start spring classes.
The spike in cases at Norwich occurred despite a regimented arrival process that included periods of room quarantine, following by an on-campus quarantine. University officials on Monday ordered a return to "modified room quarantine" as cases increased.

Some students didn't follow the rules, Anarumo said. In the nine-minute video, he apologized to the university staff that had to deal with the aftermath.

"The facility operations team has been cleaning up messes and dealing with issues that no person should be exposed to," he said.

A university spokesperson said nine students have been asked to leave campus for not following COVID-19 policies.

Anarumo said students who decided to leave campus would receive a proportional refund of their room and board fees. The university will also store any belongings students can't take with them.

A "containment plan" was in place, however, that would enable Norwich to eventually return to more normal campus operations, Anarumo said. In the meantime, officials planned to create a schedule so roommate pairs could leave their rooms at scheduled times to exercise or go outside. The president also said that athletics programs would resume at some point.

"If you decide to stay," Anarumo said, "I can promise you the short-term discomfort will have a significant reward that will last you not only this academic year but for your lifetime."