New electronic scheduling system, staff efforts smooth COVID-19 testing and arrivals, officials say

By the time students began arriving on Norwich University’s Northfield, Vermont, campus Friday for the Spring 2021 semester, teams of Norwich faculty and staff were ready. Electronic message boards in campus buildings were loaded with greetings, COVID-19 tests were waiting at Plumley Armory and Facilities Operations staff members stood ready to move snow and ease movement.

As in the fall, university departments across campus — the School of Nursing, the Center for Civic Engagement, Facilities Operations, athletic coaches, faculty and staff — had followed President Mark C. Anarumo’s “Norwich Together” motto to prepare. In his electronic message board statement to students, College of National Services Dean Matthew Smith told students, “Take care of your wingman/battle buddy and let’s get after it!”

As students arrived, School of Nursing faculty led the Plumley COVID-19 testing, helped by two nurses from the University of Vermont Medical Center, one a Norwich graduate, Norwich Nursing Director Paulette Thabault said. Because they hadn’t been tested prearrival, as they had in the fall, nursing students didn’t help administer tests for spring arrivals. In all, she said, about a dozen people have staffed the testing center open to close.

“We’re preparing the campus for students the best we can to be able to have in-person classes starting on Feb. 1.” Paulette Thabault, Norwich University nursing director

Thabault said faculty and staff who would work with students during arrivals tested for COVID-19 on Jan. 12. That had gone smoothly. Student testing started Friday.

Zoie Beauregard, a sophomore nursing student who had been part of the volunteer test administration crew in the fall, said her Friday test went quickly and efficiently.

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A rook from Norwich University’s Corps of Cadets arrives on the Upper Parade Ground with his family. Students arrived for the Spring 2021 in phases from Jan. 15, 2021, to Jan. 18, 2021. (Photo by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

“I really liked how they had the testing set up this time,” Beauregard wrote in an email. “There were extra precautions like showing the proof of your daily health screen, which I liked because it gave you a good idea about how the person felt. There was a lot of saying your name and answering questions, but it went very fast.”

Since the fall semester’s start, Norwich has administered more than 17,000 COVID-19 tests.

After their tests, students entered modified room quarantine, in which they will keep mostly to their rooms, going out only to use restrooms or pick up meals. (Groups from each dorm visit the Wise Campus Center’s dining hall in 15-minute increments to collect to-go meals). The modified initial room quarantine is expected to conclude Wednesday. 

“We’re preparing the campus for students the best we can to be able to have in-person classes starting on Feb. 1,” Thabault said Monday. “And we’re doing everything we can to reinforce the importance of (physical) distancing, wearing their masks all the time and frequent hand hygiene.”

Campus quarantine

Following the modified initial room quarantine period, students who test negative will be required to remain on campus (referred to as campus quarantine), but will be allowed to move about the campus more freely, although they’ll be allowed to enter only their own residence halls or barracks and not others.

During campus quarantine, students will be able to participate in outdoor activities (such as Wednesday’s introduction to Nordic skiing), along with indoor physical activities and student events with some restrictions to keep residential groups separate.

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More than 1,000 COVID-19 tests were conducted at Plumley Armory during the four-day student arrival period for the Spring 2021 semester. (Photo by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

On their seventh day on campus postarrival, students will be retested for COVID-19. Campus quarantine will continue until about Jan. 28, Anarumo said in a Dec. 16 Update from the Hill message, when officials determine the additional restrictions can be lifted.

New York Times data showed Vermont had 10,220 positive COVID-19 cases through Monday, a rise of 2,347 since Jan. 5. The same data showed 1,035 positive cases in Vermont’s Washington County through Monday. The United States had 24.1 million cases overall through Monday. 

The data showed that Vermont ranked 44th of 55 U.S. states and territories in positive COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people though Monday. 

As of Monday, Norwich had reported 22 positive cases on campus, 21 students and one staff member. All are isolated.

Greg McGrath, Norwich’s COVID-19 response director, said the new electronic system the information technology team arranged to let students schedule their on-campus check-ins worked well and students have vigilantly followed health and safety protocols outlined in the Maroon and Gold Behavioral Contract. 

Proof positive

The COVID-19-positive cases found early proves Norwich’s testing, isolation and arrival systems worked, McGrath said Tuesday; infected students could recover safely in isolation and spread could be prevented. Anarumo said before Christmas that Norwich had no COVID-19 spread during the fall semester.

“Spread is our greatest risk,” McGrath said. “Now that we’ve captured (those positive cases) and our system seems to be working, we need to prevent, and mitigate that spread.”

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Facilities Operations staff members were out in force as students arrived on campus for the Spring 2021 semester. (Photo by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

Like Thabault, McGrath said collective effort paid off and people were working in new ways to help ease arrivals. Some athletic coaches, McGrath said, had stayed up from late evening to wee morning hours to welcome students. Both McGrath and Thabault praised Facilities Operations, which worked so diligently over the summer to ready classrooms and grounds for student arrivals, and were again on task, this time clearing heaps of snow.

The National Weather Service’s public information statement, which lists snowfall estimates, reported that 9.5 inches of snow fell in Northfield from Friday through Sunday.

Facilities Operations Vice President Bizhan Yahyazadeh ’80 said eight members of his grounds crew worked the weekend, driving two plow trucks, a rock salt truck and three snowblower-, brush- and bucket-loader-equipped Bobcats. One plow truck, Yahyazadeh said, went up and down Jackman Hill continually to keep it clear. 

“We used all the equipment available to us,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yahyazadeh said, 15 to 20 FacOps custodians readied dorms and barracks, sometimes also wielding snow shovels outside.  

“Our staff are very familiar with Vermont weather and these kinds of things are expected. … In winter, you plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “(Arrivals) went smoothly, we did well.”

(Slideshow photos by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

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