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Illustration by Kaela MacLaughlin
More than a year into the discovery of COVID-19, a new semester begins after vaccines are widely available to the public.

By Isabella Paredes

Staff Writer

aparedesmend@mail.smcvt.edu

Higher education institutions in Vermont have taken the initiative to require COVID-19 vaccinations for students. 98.2 percent of students at St. Michael’s College provided evidence of vaccination, according to President Lorraine Sterritt in an email.

The United States hit 42 million COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 20, 2021, according to the CDC. 181 million people have been fully vaccinated nationwide. Vermont accounts for 445,100 of these vaccinations. According to the Vermont Department of Health, 87.2 percent of Vermonters 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. This makes Vermont the state with the highest percentage of its population fully vaccinated in the country.

In Gov. Scott’s weekly press briefing on Sept. 14, Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, discussed the impact of vaccinations on higher education campuses. Chittenden County, where St. Michael’s College and other institutions are located, reported a higher number of cases than last week. “For these three weeks of school, the cases are much lower than what we experienced in the spring of 2021,” he said.  According to Pieciak, the high vaccination rates across campuses are making a big difference.

The University of Vermont required all entering or returning students to be fully vaccinated this fall, according to the college website. Champlain College required students to upload their COVID-19 vaccination records online.

Without proof of vaccination or exemption status, Norwich University students are not permitted on campus, in residence halls, or in classes. To be permitted on campus, students must agree to vaccination or petition for a medical or religious exemption, according to their website.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced new initiatives about COVID-19 vaccine requirements. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated, or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on a weekly basis according to the official White House website. To implement this requirement, OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS).

At St. Michael’s College, all employees are required to inform Human Resources of their vaccination status, President Sterritt explained.

Human Resources Generalist Cameron Farnsworth indicated that 446 out of 454 active St. Michael’s employees (excluding student employees) submitted Vaccination Attestation responses.

President Sterritt said that the school is still in the process of collating and collecting employee vaccination data. As of Sept. 13, 98 percent of employees who had submitted their information are vaccinated. “When the ETS is issued, we will enact it for the small number of employees who are currently unvaccinated,” she said.

Despite the high vaccination rates on campus, Patricia Siplon, professor of political science and director of public health, reinforced the importance of taking other precautionary measures. She believes that a high vaccination rate is a foundational level of safety, but is not exclusively the only thing a community can do to stay safe. “It is very important to keep in mind that it is perhaps the best mitigation step that we can take, but at the same time is not the only mitigation step we can take,” she said. According to Siplon, mask compliance is important.

Siplon also highlighted the importance of being aware of rising cases and hospitalizations in Vermont. “Some tools are no longer mandatory, but that does not mean we should stop using them,” she said. “Employees go home every night, students leave campus and then come back.”

As vaccination rates rise, people are slowly going back to their pre-pandemic lifestyles. “As science tells us, vaccinations help with symptoms,” said Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “It allows students, faculty, and staff to have a different experience on campus,” she said.

Ellinwood highlighted differences from last year, when COVID-19 vaccines were not available to the general public, whereas now the campus is mostly vaccinated. “Just the fact that we have athletic teams is a big difference. Adventure sports are out and running. It’s very different from last year,” she said.

Ellinwood also discussed the shift to in-person classes this semester. “Most classes are in person now, and we know that for most people, it is a better way of learning. That is a big change,”  she said.

Members of the College community expressed their opinions on the high vaccination rates. “I believe that a high percentage of the people I work here with and students are vaccinated so I feel safer,” said Robert DiMasi, Alliot dining hall supervisor.

Students also shared their thoughts on the school’s high vaccination rates. “As an international student, I can say that I feel safer here because of the high rate of vaccinated people. Back at home, only people [aged] 35 and above could get the vaccine,” said Walter Ortiz ‘25, Peruvian student at St. Michael’s.  

Though most of the campus is vaccinated, Ellinwood stressed the importance of monitoring symptoms. “Whether you’re vaccinated or not, if you have symptoms, please go be checked at Bergeron Wellness Center,” she said.

She also highlighted the importance of caring for the community. “As much as we take care of ourselves, this is about the health and wellness of all our community: students, staff, and faculty,” she 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.