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By Ashley DeLeon

Executive Editor

Preparations for the Spring semester are underway, and the Saint Michael’s College administration is mandating the adherence of stricter COVID-19 guidelines this up-coming semester compared to the Fall.

On Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m., the Executive Planning Group (EPG) hosted a Town Hall to provide students with information about COVID-19 guidelines for the Spring semester.

“New and updated policies are created to benefit the student body,” said Lorraine Sterritt, president of Saint Michael’s College. Though new strains of the virus are more infectious, Sterritt shined light on the anticipated effectiveness of vaccines. “New strains are more infectious. The good news is that the vaccines are expected to be effective against them,” she said.

Mary Masson, executive director of Bergeron Wellness Center, says the virus’ impact in our community and state is being watched carefully. “Although the COVID rate is lower than three percent, we’re watching it with concern,” she said. “Last week’s numbers equaled the total number of cases from May to October. Why we’ve done so well is because we have a very conservative commissioner and governor. It is the reason behind things we’ll do moving forward.” Decision making from the State of Vermont is the reason why many of the College guidelines are in place, Masson explained. She specified that Saint Michael’s College follows directives from the State of Vermont, though there may be discrepancies with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).

For individuals who were diagnosed with COVID-19 over winter break, the College requests a copy of the testing result sent to mmasson@smcvt.edu for medical record purposes. Those who were previously diagnosed do not need to undergo surveillance testing for a full 90 days. Administration will notify these individuals when they are due for testing. Though surveillance testing may not be mandatory for this time period, they are expected to follow all other COVID-19 guidelines on campus, Masson explained.

If someone has fallen ill or is a contact of a positive case, quarantine will occur in Ryan Hall, differing from the College’s previous policy of quarantine inside of an individual’s Fall housing. Contacts with a history of a COVID infection within the past 90 days are still required to undergo a full quarantine. This guideline is mandated by the VT Department of Health.

The full duration of isolation is 10 days, with a planned release on Day 11. If symptoms are developed during isolation, “the clock restarts and it becomes 10 days from the start of symptoms,” Masson noted. “There is a new strain coming out of the UK called the B117 strain, which is more contagious. They are finding that because it’s more contagious, it can affect larger communities, increasing the risk for a larger subset of the community to be hospitalized,” she warned. Luckily, testing provided by the Broad Institute can detect this specific strain. 

According to Masson, Mark Levine, Vermont Health Commissioner, stated that no plan is in place for college students to receive the vaccine until the late spring or early summer at this point in time. If there is an uptick in doses or more companies approved by the FDA for vaccination administration, then this may change. “The COVID vaccine does not prevent us from being exposed to the virus or potentially sharing it with our community. It won’t be effective until 70% of the population receives it. If you get the vaccine, you must still continue the guidelines of testing, quarantining, masking, etc.” Masson said.

 ”We learned a lot from the Fall,” said Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for student affairs. A survey conducted by the Student Government Association (SGA) provided the EPG with feedback and data to consider in their Spring semester planning. 

“We have received lots of feedback and data recently. The SGA leadership met with the EPG group from a survey they just did. We are continuing to work and there are works in progress. It was important for the EPG to share what we have so far and it may not change a lot, but it may,” she said. 

Ellinwood notes the biggest protocol change is the mandate for quarantine in Ryan Hall. “Meals will be delivered, and the hall will have more pantries. We are trying to make that space more than it was in the Fall,” she said. Additionally, are encouraged to only socialize with their households.

Saint Michael’s College administration and student leaders of the COVID Action Network hosted a Town Hall via Zoom to address student concerns and increased safety measures

Testing changes

Faculty and staff are encouraged to receive testing weekly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., though testing is not mandatory. 

“The configuration of what you experienced last semester will be different. Testing will be conducted around the track, because the numbers of people coming in will be dramatically different.” Students must bring their KnightCards to testing, as they will be swiped upon entry to record attendance. “If you do not show up, we will find you,” Ellinwood warned. 

The virus is fully expected to be present on campus upon arrival, therefore, the precaution and vigilance are crucial until the arrival testing is completed. 

Mental Health and Wellness

Kathy Butts, director of counseling at Bergeron, encourages students to contemplate whether returning to campus in-person is in their best interest. “When you think about coming back, knowing what the challenges are, think about how that will work for you and if you have the supports and capacities available to take on that challenge,” she said. Butts notes that learning remotely can be beneficial for many students. 

If anyone is in need of support in making this decision, reach out to kbutts@smcvt.edu.

In addition, individual counseling will be available by appointment, and urgent needs can be accommodated on the same day.

Communication and messaging

Alex Bertoni, director of marketing and communications, explained new changes to the College website. There is a new section titled Information and Resources, with newly integrated alert levels. “Alert levels give people a level of where we’re at. Some of the requirements for orange are spelled out there. If there is a lower incidence of COVID, we can get to yellow.” The administration can’t specify what guidelines can be relaxed with yellow and green levels, as they may be subject to change. To access the dashboard, it will no longer be linked on the landing page. It can be found under COVID Alert Levels.

Additionally, information that defines terms such as “household,” further details of quarantine and isolation, and information about hygiene can be found on this page. 

Academics

Jeffrey Trumbower, vice president for academic affairs and professor of Religious Studies, reminded students that classes begin virtually on Jan. 25, for those who quarantined both at home and on campus. Classes with in-person components are expected to begin on Feb. 4. 

“We didn’t plan break days well in the Fall because we never experienced a semester where the only break day was in the middle of the week. There was a sense of not having any breaks, and we stressed to faculty that break days are actually break days, and no assignments should be due the day after or the day of,” he said. Department and committee meetings should not meet either, as these are meant to be breaks from the normal routine.” 

If a student is contemplating remote learning for the semester, they must contact Tim Mackin, Associate Dean of the College. 

“One caveat is that not every course is available remotely. One-third are fully virtual, one-third are mixed, and one-third are in person. Some mixed and in person models can make accommodations for fully remote students, however. It is not too late to decide if you want to be virtual,” Trumbower stated.

The EPG later addressed specific questions submitted by students, highlighting, re-iterating, and supplementing specific information previously provided in the informational session.

For more information on health and safety protocols for the Spring semester, visit https://www.smcvt.edu/return-to-campus/

By Brendan Looney

Staff Writer

Worried about how you’re going to celebrate this holiday season with the threat of the pandemic ever-looming? You’re certainly not alone. Many families are adjusting their holiday plans in order to protect their loved ones from COVID-19. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “The safest way to celebrate winter holidays is at home with the people who live with you. Travel and gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase your chances of getting or spreading COVID-19.” 

In this unprecedented time, I decided to go out and ask students in my area what their plans are for the upcoming holidays. 

“We’re going to have a socially distanced outdoor Christmas Eve party with only 6-8 people,” said Shane McCadden, Endicott College ’21. “Everyone is going to eat dinner at their house before, and then come to my uncle’s house for drinks after.” The CDC defines social distancing as keeping a safe space between yourself and other people not from your household by staying at least six feet (about two arms’ length) from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Illustration by Sarah Knickerbocker

“Even though we are going through a pandemic I think that it is necessary to spend this time alongside my relatives,” said Brett Grace ’22, University of Mass. Lowell. “In order to see my family, I am going to get a COVID test before I go. If the COVID test is negative I will not have to quarantine. If I test positive for any reason, I will probably set up a Zoom meeting to share the holiday with my parents and sister.” 

The actual timing of a test matters, as we know from the CDC. Not everyone needs to be tested, but if you do get tested, you should self-quarantine at home pending test results. “If you test negative, you probably were not infected at the time your sample was collected,” according to the CDC’s website. “The test result only means that you did not have COVID-19 at the time of testing.” 

Jacob Hunt ’23 from Salve Regina University said that he will still have gatherings, but they will be smaller. “We’re taking precautions like staying away from non-family members and wearing masks when out in public.” 

 Resorting to virtual methods of communication such as Zoom or Facetime is a safer method of communicating and may be crucial in preventing the spread of the disease within their families.“We will have virtual meetings with family members that live far away,” said Ava Melo ’24, University of Alabama Tuscaloosa. “We plan on virtually meeting with family members who are immunocompromised or get sick easily.” 

The more steps you and your family can take to prevent the spread of COVID, the safer you will be.​ For example, wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from the virus. However you decide to celebrate, please do so responsibly and help fight the spread of COVID together. 

By Victoria Zambello

Executive Editor

On Dec. 14, Vermont Governor Phil Scott announced the incoming of 1,950 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. With the recent news of the vaccine, 90.2 percent of the St. Michael’s Community said they would take the vaccine and 9.8 percent said they would not take the vaccine based on a Defender poll with 173 responses. 

“Of all the vaccines that are being developed right now, this is the most rigorously studied and watched,” said Tracy Dolan, Deputy Commissioner for Public Health in a recent interview. “The best minds in the world have been contributing to this. The effectiveness is unprecedented, with a 95 percent effectiveness rate coming out of the gate and we do trust the FDA and CDC in terms of their protocols.” 

But college students shouldn’t toss their masks away yet. The vaccine will be given out based on a list of criteria created by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). With initial doses provided to high-risk health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, the typical college student will be far down on the phase list for the vaccine. Based on Oct. 23 Vermont Governor’s press release, college-aged students will be vaccinated in phase three.  

It will take time for enough of the public to have the community immunity needed to fight this virus, Dolan explained.“Even though we have a vaccine starting now, which is really the very best news for this virus, it will be months before we see real changes in masking and social distancing.”

“This is just the start of a long process to receive and administer enough vaccines to bring COVID-19 under control,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD in his recent press statement on Dec. 14. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of everyone keeping up their efforts to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the virus. This is a time for great optimism and even greater vigilance to make it all happen.”

How it works

The vaccine works with two doses, and unlike vaccines such as the flu shot, experts believe that the vaccine will last long-term. “Coronavirus has a very slow mutation and we anticipate that this round of vaccines, getting the first, and then the second will keep you protected for the long term. We anticipate it to be a long-term vaccine like you would get for measles that require usually one or two as a whole,” Dolan said. 

According to the CDC, a second shot is applied after the first shot, in order to gain immunity from the disease. Common side effects, similar to any vaccine, include fever, chills, tiredness, and headaches. 

St. Michael’s students, attending school on campus this spring, will still need to follow the Vermont guidelines on the vaccine, regardless of their home state. Although some students may have tested positive in the past, the Department of Health will not ask you about your history with COVID. 

“Even though you may have tested positive for COVID and you may have an antibody response, you don’t know how strong that response is. With this vaccine, because we are controlling it, we know that this response will be very effective based on the trials we’ve done,” Dolan said. “For students that will eventually mean they will be less likely to get COVID and even more importantly less likely to pass it along to those who are most vulnerable.”

“I think the vaccine is going to make a huge difference with the fear that a lot of people are facing right now,” said Jordy Fenton ’22. “A lot are nervous about what it will mean, but to me, it’s a hopeful start in getting back some of the normalcy that we’re missing. Of course, it won’t happen all of a sudden and we still need to be careful, but it will feel so much better to be able to hug my grandmother without feeling like I’m putting her at risk.”

When students return back to campus in February, even with the vaccine, normalcy should not be expected. 

Photo Courtesy of Vermont Department of Health

“There is a practical light at the end of this tunnel and where we will come out the other side and hopefully will have a population that has achieved enough immunity that we can go back to what we thought of as normal life before,” Dolan said. 

By Kaitlin Woolery

Photography Editor 

Reducing waste is an important issue to the Saint Michael’s College community. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, faculty, staff, and students are required to wear face masks on campus. Ingrid Boland ’22 has noticed several single-use masks being disposed of improperly. “I’ve noticed masks on the ground more so on campus than at home. When I noticed masks on the ground it was on sidewalks near cars and I don’t know if there could be a correlation there,” she said. 

Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Woolery

Vermont is one of several states that recently passed a single-use product law. This law prohibits businesses from using single-use products such as plastic bags, foam containers, and plastic straws. According to The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, “Single-use items, paper, and packaging make up almost 1/3 of Vermont’s trash.” This law’s intent is to help protect the environment from harmful wastes.

According to the National Institute of Health, disposable single-use face masks are produced from micro-plastic polymers such as polypropylene, polyurethane, polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethylene, or polyester. Some of the materials used in the masks’ layers which are meant to shield us from germs and water vapor are similar to those found in disposable diapers. 

Clay Williams, assistant professor of environmental studies and science says that in addition to litter reducing the aesthetic appeal to our environment, improper disposal of masks may harm the wildlife.“They can get tangled in wildlife and pose a choking hazard to wildlife on land and in the water,” said Williams. He added, “They break down into micro-plastics which can harm aquatic life.” Humans may also be impacted by the disposing of these masks. “They likely aren’t able to be recycled in our conventional system, and thus would end up in the landfill, ocean or environment after use. They are likely to release toxins into the environment as they break down,” said Williams.

Wearing disposable face masks is an effective way to filter aerosols that may contain the virus. However, proper disposal of the masks in designated trash bins is necessary to prevent unsightly litter on campus as well as protecting our environment, waterways and wildlife.

“It made me frustrated at not only the effects on the environment in terms of the fact that the masks do not decompose, but also in the people’s lack of following the policies to help prevent the virus. It also made me wonder the reason this might be happening,” said Boland.

Dear St. Michael’s Community, 

Due to St. Michael’s going to remote classes and interactions, we have made the decision to forgo the third printed issue of the Defender, expected to come out on April 2. Instead of in print, the Defender will be moving completely online. We will be posting more current updates via our website and our social media pages. 

Come April 2, go to our website to check out the virtual third issue of the Defender. We will also be posting stories on a daily basis to the Defender website. 

Anyone who would like to contribute a piece, please email: hmckelvey@mail.smcvt.edu or lhamilton@mail.smcvt.edu  

Stay healthy, happy, and remember to practice social distancing. 

Thank you, 

The Defender Staff