A Pandemic Semester Looms, But the Outlook Has Changed | Off Message

A Pandemic Semester Looms, But the Outlook Has Changed


The University of Vermont campus - FILE: JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • The University of Vermont campus
The return of about 25,000 college students to Vermont will look very different this year compared to last, state officials said during Gov. Phil Scott’s regular weekly press conference.

Last year, masking, testing and social distancing dominated the beginning of the fall semester. In Burlington and elsewhere, residents worried about the return of college students, many from faraway states where the pandemic was surging. Vaccinations had not been approved for the public.

This year, in the second autumn of the pandemic, masks are still recommended indoors. But about 90 percent of the students are returning fully vaccinated to their campuses, said Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak, who is handling COVID-19 modeling for the state.

With 13 of 16 institutions of higher ed reporting, said Pieciak, only 350 students have received exemptions from vaccination requirements.

“Higher education is in a really good position to start the semester as it relates to vaccination status,” he said.

Like other states, Vermont has seen its share of breakthrough infections — cases in which vaccinated people test positive for COVID-19. Among 420,000 vaccinated people in the state, 915 of them, or 0.22 percent, have tested positive for COVID-19. Twenty-three of them, or 0.006 percent, have been hospitalized, and 10 have died, officials said.

“There’s been this major uptick in late July and early August in these cases, no denying,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine. He noted that there are far more people who are vaccinated than not.

“So yes, if we’re going to see cases in Vermont, the cases are going to be in the vaccinated people,” he said, “because that’s almost everybody in the state.”