HMI COVID-19 Update

An HMI student tested positive for COVID-19 on March 31, 2021 at Rocky Mountain Family Practice (RMFP) in Leadville. Upon receiving news of this first positive case, HMI immediately initiated its COVID-19 protocols and began consulting with the school’s physician advisor, Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger, and the Lake County Public Health Agency.

An initial round of all-school testing on March 31 identified three additional positive student cases and no positive employee cases. HMI oversaw twice-daily COVID-19 testing for all students for almost two weeks and, by April 13, identified 25 additional student cases. No students have tested positive since April 13, and we are currently monitoring zero active cases. Our students are now on their wilderness expedition in Utah.

All HMI employees are now fully-vaccinated against COVID-19—no adults in the community have tested positive for COVID-19. 

During the event, all positive students remained in isolation on HMI’s campus until their 10-day CDC-recommended isolation period was completed. All positive students had a mild course of the virus. Students who did not test positive for the virus remained in different quarters on campus throughout the course of the event. Given the very limited contacts HMI students have had with the external community during the pandemic, no Lake County residents were contact traced as a result of exposure to the HMI student body.

In addition, over the last two weeks, over 80% of HMI students received the first round of their COVID-19 vaccinations; they will receive their second shots in early May.

HMI does not know how the virus entered the residential community. HMI’s campus has been closed to non-essential visitors since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and HMI high school students, who arrived on January 27th, have only visited the wider community for individual essential medical visits, during which they followed CDC COVID-19 precautions. They have had no other contacts with the community. No HMI Gap students have tested positive for COVID-19. The HMI Gap is a separate program from the HMI high school semester and the two student bodies do not interact. Gap students received their first vaccine shots in early April.

“COVID-19 is an incredibly serious virus,” said Danny O’Brien, High Mountain Institute Head of School. “It is unfortunate that the virus found its way onto our campus, but we were prepared for this eventuality. Our planning never depended on whether we could keep COVID-19 away from HMI. Our goals in welcoming students this school year were to manage risks for employees and students while being a good neighbor in Lake County.”

O’Brien continued, “Working closely with Dr. Lisa and our public health partners, we built multiple layers of precautions into our operations in order to prepare plans for this school year that would help us achieve our goals.” Students are required to wear masks at all times when indoors apart from meals and residential cabin time. “We are proud of our track record running programming during the pandemic,” said O’Brien. “Between our programs, We successfully completed over 50 weeks of programming without a single reported student COVID-19 case up until this month, and we have several weeks left of transformative, relevant programming to come. Our faculty and staff worked incredibly hard to support our students and their families during this challenging period. They were amazing. We will continue to work in collaboration with Dr. Lisa and our partners at Lake County Public Health Agency to manage risks to all students and employees, and to protect the Lake County community, throughout the remainder of our spring programming.” 

Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger, HMI’s physician advisor, also commented, “HMI did all the right things during the course of the outbreak. They cared for students, and protected the community from the virus spreading off of the campus. I was proud to work with the administration and faculty.”

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