March 9, 2021 at 8:54 a.m.
Update on Surveillance Testing, Campus Alert Level, Vaccines, and Athletics
To St. Olaf College faculty and staffFrom Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis
I am writing to you with important updates on our Campus Alert Level restrictions, Athletics, and vaccines.
Last week marked our second consecutive week of on-campus COVID-19 surveillance testing. Of the 615 tests we conducted, we had 0 positive results. Of the 91 student-athletes and coaches tested, 0 had positive results.
Rice County’s 14-day case rate per 10,000 people dropped yet again, and is currently at 15.66.
Given that we continue to see stable COVID-19 conditions on campus and we see an encouraging trend in our surrounding area, St. Olaf staff members met with a Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) epidemiologist to evaluate whether we can ease some of our current restrictions. Both the MDH epidemiologist and our own health care consultant agree that although we need to be aware of the continued virus risks (including the emerging variants) and remain vigilant in following our Community Standards, we can ease some restrictions.
Because of the medium transmission level of the virus in the local region we will remain in a Yellow Campus Alert Level, but the following is now allowed:
- Students may leave campus to travel into Northfield and Dundas. You should stay within Northfield and Dundas city limits. It will be extremely important to be cautious outside our bubble and adhere to all Community Standards, including masking, physical distancing, and frequent handwashing.
- Students may seek permission to leave campus for overnight trips. If you want to leave campus for more than a day, you are required to fill out this form to be reviewed and approved by Student Life. Upon your return, you will be required to lay low in your room and take a COVID-19 test immediately and again 5-7 days after returning. “Laying low” means that until those tests results are back, you may not socialize or attend college activities and should only go to class and pick up “grab and go” options from Stav Hall.
As a reminder, the following guidelines remain in place:
- Masks must continue to be worn at all times in public, including when you’re with your “social bubble” in common areas. A reminder that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that masks should have multiple layers of fabric. At a minimum they should have two layers of material, and emerging scientific data indicate that ideally a cloth face mask would have at least three layers of tightly woven/densely layered materials. Please also remember that it’s important to make sure that your mask is fitted and worn correctly at all times, including covering both your nose and your mouth.
- You must report to the college if you have a positive test result, have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, or if you have viral symptoms. Please report using this form.
- Only approved group activities and those that fulfill academic requirements will be allowed. This includes:
- Classes and labs
- Required and approved music and fine art activities
- Approved athletic and extracurricular activities
- Events and gatherings approved through Student Activities (see Guidelines for Student Organizations here)
- Informal social gatherings (hanging out) of no more than 10 people indoors and 15 people outdoors. Additional guidance on social gatherings from MDH can be found here.
- COVID-19 testing
Frequent handwashing, mask wearing, and physical distancing will ensure that we can continue to keep our Ole community safe and healthy. We continue to monitor the indicators that determine our Campus Alert Level and listen to guidance from MDH. It remains our hope that we can further ease restrictions as the semester continues.
Coping in the era of COVID-19 can present unfamiliar, complicated challenges. TheBoe House Counseling Center remains an important resource on campus. In addition to a mental health tip sheet, students can schedule a Let’s Talk consultation or a confidential virtual counseling appointment at email@example.com or by calling 507-786-3062.
I am pleased to share that a new COVID-19 vaccine FAQ is now available. We’ll keep this updated as new information becomes available.
While the vaccine supply remains limited, we remain optimistic that doses will be available for all students, faculty, and staff by summer, ahead of the fall semester. State health officials shared this new timeline to show when community members can expect to have access to the vaccine.
As outlined in the state’s vaccine priority phases, K-12 educators and childcare providers remain the first group of educators to receive vaccinations. College and university educators and students are not part of the current vaccination priority level.
We have received many questions about why college communities are not included in the state’s Phase 1A or Phase 1B priority list. The reasons include:
- Childcare and K-12 settings have inherent risk because not all students can successfully social distance or wear masks, which puts educators at higher risk. Additionally, children going back to childcare and school allows parents to return to work.
- Other essential workers were prioritized due to either the likelihood of their direct exposure to other individuals and not being able to maintain social distancing (public transportation, grocery workers) or due to the impact that would occur on a business if they were to become sick (food processing plants).
- Some faculty and staff will fall into an earlier priority group based on age and other health factors, including high-risk health conditions. But because colleges work with adult-learners, we are better able to social distance.
Ole Athletics competitions are an important bedrock of our community and their absence over the last year has had a profound impact on campus spirit and vibrancy. The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), in full coordination with respective presidents, recently approved plans to restart spring and fall sports competition. Competition began March 5.
While we welcome this step toward a return to normalcy, we are not taking this opportunity for granted. The health and well-being of student-athletes, coaches, and the greater St. Olaf and Northfield communities remain our top priority. This “new normal” scenario may likely result in cancellations or rescheduling of athletic contests in the event that anyone on a team tests positive for the virus. As always, the positive individual will be isolated and all close contacts will be required to quarantine.
To be clear, the return of Ole Athletics competitions will be limited. College leaders, including Athletics staff, have agreed to welcome a limited number of competitive teams to campus through reduced schedules. Visiting athletes and staff will be asked to follow the same strict guidelines and testing protocols that are expected of our Oles. Fans from outside our bubble, including parents, will not be allowed. Students who are part of our bubble will be allowed to attend outdoor athletic events.
Student athletes are required to:
- Complete a daily wellness check form on days of competition
- Adhere to daily checks on practice days
- Participate in frequent testing. Should a student-athlete miss a test, they will not be permitted to practice for a full calendar week until the next test is conducted the following Monday
Campus Sports Medicine staff are required to:
- Run a full symptom check and additional screening questions before home competition and before loading the bus for away contests
Reporting of student-athlete exposure to COVID-19:
All confirmed Ole student-athlete viral positivity cases are disclosed to the MIAC. Each of the conference’s 13 schools, including St. Olaf, will have knowledge of the status of competing programs. Under MIAC guidance, student-athletes must adhere to a 10-day quarantine and cannot travel or compete until 14 days have passed. This is in alignment with our comprehensive campus 14-day quarantine policy.
All Ole athletic teams will remain in practice pods of 25, according to the latest MDH policies.
There is a lot of good news in recent days about progress with vaccines and infection rates across the country. We must balance that with the reality that the virus can surge again given the right circumstances. I greatly appreciate the resiliency and care you have shown for one another. Remember that Oles help Oles, and our work in stopping the virus’s spread is not over.
Thanks for all you do to keep our community safe.