Mayor Miro Weinberger hopes to establish stringent measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Burlington as thousands of college students return to the Queen City this fall.
Among those measures are limits on crowd sizes both inside and outside residences and earlier “last call” times for bars and other establishments that sell alcohol, Weinberger said Tuesday. He plans to call an emergency City Council meeting Thursday to ask the elected body to pass a resolution.
COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported in cities throughout the country as students return to campus. For example, more than 100 positive cases among returning students at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill prompted the college to revert to online learning one week after reopening.
A majority of UVM’s population — about 12,000 students — has opted to return to campus for the fall semester, according to UVM President Suresh Garimella. Another 1,300 students have opted instead to continue learning online.
What mitigation measures is Burlington taking?
Weinberger’s announcement Tuesday came about a week after he voiced concerns about the University of Vermont’s plans to reopen in-person learning. Since then, he said, he has engaged in discussions with leaders of both UVM and Champlain College, and the colleges have agreed to further protective measures.
Both colleges agreed to share test results with the Department of Health on a daily basis, and they will issue weekly updates to the city. Those updates could become more frequent if any problems arise. Students will also face consequences for missing COVID-19 tests, including suspension if they miss three in a row.
Weinberger hopes the City Council will pass proposed measures on Thursday to keep residents safe from community spread of COVID-19. Those measures include:
- Limiting the maximum size of outdoor gatherings at Burlington residences to 25 people.
- Limiting the maximum size of indoor residential gatherings to 10 people.
- Setting last call for sale of alcohol in Burlington to 10 p.m. instead of 2 a.m., which includes both bars and stores.
Burlington Police Department will also conduct COVID Education Circuits in the areas surrounding the college to educate residents about the rules and to write tickets, if necessary, Weinberger said. Police typically conduct educational visits to these neighborhoods to address various quality of life issues and measures residents can take if they have problems.
Weinberger has also asked enforcement officers with the Department of Liquor and Lottery to increase their presence in Burlington to ensure bars are following mitigation rules.
“It is my hope that (these regulations) are short-lived,” Weinberger said Tuesday. “If virus transmission levels in Burlington remain very low after both the public schools have opened and after we’ve gotten through this transition period … we will happily reevaluate the necessity of these regulations and consider lifting them or altering them.”
Garimella: Students will be closely monitored
Garimella called UVM’s plan for monitoring and testing students for COVID-19 “…one of, if not the most, rigorous and comprehensive of any such plan in the nation.”
UVM students are being tested before leaving their hometowns, tested again when they arrive in Burlington, and will be tested on a weekly basis. UVM’s $25 to $30 million testing plan will make UVM students some of the most tested and closely monitored residents in the state, Garimella said Tuesday.
Students made their decision knowing they would be subject to stringent testing and quarantine protocols, Garimella said, “in addition to strict requirements regarding their behavior on and off campus.”
Garimella said that 8,700 pre-arrival tests have been ordered and 1,150 of those tests have been processed. Two students have tested positive and are staying home until they are cleared, according Garimella.
Additionally, 955 students have been tested on campus since Aug. 7, with two positive results.
Five off campus students and one staff member have tested positive as of Aug. 13, according to UVM’s website.