St. Olaf College | COVID-19

November 5, 2020 at 12:53 p.m.

Update on weekly COVID testing

To St. Olaf College faculty and staffFrom Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis

Dear St. Olaf Community,

I’m writing to provide an update and some additional context on the results for this week’s COVID-19 surveillance testing.

We conducted a total of 296 surveillance tests on campus this week. So far, we have the results for 167 of those tests, and 0 of those were positive. We are waiting for the results of 129 remaining surveillance tests to come back.

As an added precaution while we are in the Yellow Alert Level, we have conducted some targeted testing of those more likely to have been exposed to the virus on campus. We have seen 10 positives from that targeted testing. As a result of students working with our Contact Tracing Team, most of these new positives were already in quarantine, which is significant in helping to limit spread.

We began testing all of the close contacts of positive cases on campus last week as part of our targeted testing. Our weekly testing this semester has been focused on surveillance testing. The goal of surveillance testing is to identify evidence of transmission in our campus community. With targeted testing, the goal is to test those who are more likely to be infected due to direct exposure. This is an important step to take in order to ensure that we are identifying and containing community spread, but you will likely see positive case numbers increase as a result. We believe that we are still in a position to contain this cluster of cases.

We have employed a “test and trace” strategy for monitoring COVID-19 on campus. Each week we have conducted random tests in order to understand what the presence of the virus is in our overall population. When positive cases are identified, we have engaged in prompt contact tracing and testing in an effort to identify and resolve potential sources of spread. As one would expect, the testing conducted of close contacts of positive cases has resulted in a higher positivity rate. The fact that this week we have had a number of individuals test positive through our tracing and testing efforts while at the same time the number of individuals who tested positive in our random sampling remains extremely low is a sign that our strategy is working. While we are concerned about the increase in positive cases, given the continued low level of cases through random testing we do not see a need to make further changes to our Campus Alert Level. Our health care consultant concurs with this decision.

As a reminder, we are in a Yellow Alert Level. Along with emphasizing the importance of mask wearing and physical distancing, we have asked all campus community members to limit their social circle on campus and to pay attention to any possible COVID-19 symptoms. If you have any symptoms, please take it seriously, stay in your room, and seek a medical evaluation right away.

Our testing is still resulting in very low numbers of positive cases, and our tracing is identifying patterns on campus where we have risk of the virus spreading. We feel confident that this means the testing and contact tracing process we’ve put in place is working exactly as designed and will enable us to mitigate the spread of the virus on campus. Only 20 days remain until the end of the semester. If we all take care and follow our Community Standards we will be able to end in a safe and orderly way in these challenging times.