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Companion blog for Voices, a Landmark College student publication

Virus Testing Site Opens at Landmark College

by Guinevere Downey

A version of this article originally appeared in The Commons on April 1st, 2020. The Commons is a Windham County weekly newspaper.

PUTNEY—As part of an initiative to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 patients, Landmark College had agreed to become one of a number of additional temporary sample collection sites across the state to test Vermonters.

Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Luciani received the request on March 27th from the Vermont Department of Health and, after some internal discussion, the college offered use of a lower campus parking lot as a testing site.

The Vermont National Guard assembled the site over that weekend.

In order to be tested, individuals must have been referred by a health professional.

People who are referred for testing drive down Charles Drake Lane (the college’s main road). They receive a swab from National Guardsmen dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) who aren’t supposed to leave the parking lot and who ensure that patients do not leave their cars.

The Windham County Sheriff’s Office also has personnel at the site to help manage traffic.

Landmark’s site is one of several that have been opened around the state, which is working hard to contain the virus. The state has received additional stocks of tests, which have been in short supply nationwide.

From the beginning, the college has been assured of the safety of the process.

Stemming an increase in transmission of the virus has been a priority, although the opening of the center on the campus created some concerns, which local legislators sought to address.

“Understandably, there will be questions,” Sen. Jeanette White and Rep. Mike Mrowicki wrote jointly in a press release. “In the big picture, testing and more testing is how we can bring some certainty to this crisis.”

“Early and broad testing is a proven strategy to limit the spread of this virus,” Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine M.D. said in a press release last week. “Vermont is still early enough on the curve of positive cases that increased testing can have a large impact on our ability to flatten that curve.”

The state has had 293 positive test results at the time of writing and has performed more than 4,000 tests. (UPDATED: 679 Confirmed cases as of April 12th 2020).

The National Guard did a drive-through of the site on Saturday, and on Sunday, they set up two trailers, a pair of port-a-potties, and a tent in Parking Lot D.

“I’ve been getting updates from the person in charge and he says it’s been going very smoothly,” said Luciani.

Why Landmark College, though?

“For some time, Landmark College has been in a relationship with the Vermont Department of Health to serve as a point of distribution during public health emergencies where medications (or in this case, testing) is able to be distributed,” Luciani said in an email.

Approximately 25 of the school’s 500 students remain on campus, with the balance of the student population remaining at home after an extended break. Classes resumed March 30th, using videoconferencing software and other tools for distance learning and continued for the rest of the semester.

In interviews, several remaining students noted that the test center did not cause added anxiety in a context that was already difficult but manageable.

“It doesn’t bother me much,” said Dylan Basora-Kennelly. “It hasn’t had that much of an effect on me.”

“Right now, the National Guard is not interfering with the lives of students on campus,” said Bill Drake, an older student who will graduate this spring. “They are more of a curiosity.”

The campus was chosen in part because of its location, less than two miles from Exit 4 on Interstate 91.

Peter Eden, Landmark’s president, noted that the college has long had a relationship with the state when it comes to public health.

“We’ve always agreed to serve as a point of distribution during a public health emergency,” he said, “and many other schools do as well, because we know we have the facilities and the parking lots and the gymnasiums.”

"My sense was that, shared by everyone here at the college, we want to do whatever we can to help the community, the state, and beyond,” said Eden. “To recognize the opportunity to help out when the opportunity presents itself is a good lesson for all of our students and for the community in general."

On March 31st , in an email to the Landmark community, Eden said that several state leaders would inspect the facility and would arrive in a helicopter that landed on campus on the 3rd of April.

Originally published in Spring 2020, Volume 1, Issue 3

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