BURLINGTON – Today in a joint press conference with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and UVM President Suresh Garimella, the city and UVM announced a new task force called “Pandemic Strong.” The task force is charged with enabling UVM to proceed with normal operations through the pandemic.
When asked who is on “Pandemic Strong” President Garimella said “it’s hard to say yet.” When asked for clarification the mayor jumped in “we’ll know more after the first round of testing when the students arrive.”
When The Winooski inquired as to what they were talking about President Garimella said “as people test positive they’ll join the committee. But we don’t know who that is yet.” Weinberger added “instead of asking that families make sure they aren’t bringing the virus to Burlington, risking precious tuition dollars, we invite them to bring it here! Burlington is a wonderful place to be sick. The field hospital set up in the gym is lovely.”
Garimella and Weinberger gave the press a tour of the new Pandemic Strong facility. The site, overlooking a vivacious green, looked remarkably like the Bailey-Howe Library complete with a full library, conference rooms, workstations, and an attached dormitory. As well as Old Mill, Ruebenstien, Davis, Living & Learning and several other classroom buildings. Notably absent was Waterman.
“It’s great because the University is so big that, as Pandemic Strong grows, we can grow with it,” said Weinberger.
When asked if it would be wiser to try to prevent the virus from coming by requiring students to test prior to arrival, as many other schools are doing, saving valuable resources, as well as lives, Garimella said, “but then some families might not do it. We only got $28M in state aid this year which is only combined with our $550M endowment and that’s after a projected $15M shortfall. That only leaves just over half a billion dollars, so we can’t possibly risk losing a few students on campus even though we’re offering online education as well that wouldn’t hurt anybody.”
UVM has been under fire for equity issues these past few weeks. To that end Garimella added “we’re very proud of this bottom-up leadership. We’re acutely aware that the first, and most represented will be the students, and the staff and faculty that directly work with them. It’s an extremely inclusive committee,” he added.
When students arrive at UVM they will be tested for Covid-19. Those who test positive will be given a medal and admitted directly to the new Pandemic Strong facility. As part of the UVM-City partnership “Box it In” they’ll be given a gift box containing a walking map of Church Street, a coupon for Red Square, and a “Pandemic Strong” bottle opener. They will also be treated to a balloon drop, according to sources.
All classes this fall are scheduled to be held in the new Pandemic Strong facility. “It’s a wonderful teaching environment.” said Garimella. When asked how other students will learn safely Garimella was quick to remind us that students can take a full load of courses online.
Interviews with public health experts at UVM, UVM Medical Center, the state, Duke, the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, the US Department of Health, the CDC, WHO, and my neighbor, suggested that UVM’s plan will certainly cost many lives. “Yes, but kids at this age tend to be immune.”
“Some won’t be, and many staff and faculty will be exposed to life-threatening risk. The result will certainly be a major outbreak in the community and a fresh lockdown for Vermont’s schools and workplaces,” said a state expert.
“Meh,” said Weinberger when asked what the City’s plan for response was.
“I don’t see what everyone’s complaining about. I feel great. But anyone who gets sick is welcome to join Pandemic Strong!” added Garimella enthusiastically. Asked if Garimella would be joining the committee he said that he can’t because he will be working from home for the duration of the pandemic.
Image Credits: VTDigger.