St. Olaf College | COVID-19

April 2, 2021 at 11:04 a.m.

Update on COVID-19 Testing

To St. Olaf College studentsFrom Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis

Dear Oles,

I’m writing with important updates and information on:

  1. The results of our campuswide COVID-19 testing this week
  2. Our Campus Alert Level and restrictions
  3. Upcoming on-campus vaccine clinics

1. COVID-19 Testing Results
This week we asked all St. Olaf students to participate in COVID-19 testing so that we can understand how prevalent the virus is on campus and limit further spread in our community. Next week we will be testing on-campus faculty and staff. So far, we are seeing cases of the virus though not at an alarming rate. Once we have identified cases, our Contact Tracing Team has been able to work quickly with those individuals to identify their close contacts. These close contacts are quarantined and tested so that we can eliminate further spread of the virus. This process has enabled us to tamp out these clusters of the virus.

Of the 2,759 tests we conducted this week, 19 were positive. This means in this round of testing we had a positivity rate of 0.69%. As of today, our 14-day student infection rate is 1.55%.

We currently have 36 campus community members in isolation and 92 in quarantine. Our contact tracing continues to show that the virus is spreading primarily through social gatherings where people are in close contact. We are not seeing significant spread in classrooms or other structured activities where we’re strictly adhering to our Community Standards. The results of this testing show that, while infection is not widespread on campus, we did identify clusters of illness that could lead to more widespread transmission if not quickly identified. Based on updates from the Minnesota Department of Health, we are mindful of the increasing prevalence of the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant in the state of Minnesota. Because this variant is much more transmissible, we as a community must continue to be vigilant in our adherence to our Community Standards and Campus Alert Levels and follow the appropriate procedures for quarantine and isolation.

Rice County’s 14-day case rate per 10,000 people increased once again this week, and is currently at 33.60.

2. Campus Alert Level and Restrictions
Given all of these factors, we need to remain in our heightened Yellow Campus Alert Level and continue our “lay low” period.

I know many of you are experiencing pandemic fatigue and the restrictions in the “lay low” period can strain mental health. Nevertheless, if we want to remain on campus together for the remainder of the semester, it is critical that we collectively follow our Campus Alert Level guidelines and Community Standards. Even with the quickening pace of statewide vaccinations, the number of confirmed cases rose throughout Minnesota this week. Early warning signs of a “fourth wave” are clear indicators that we cannot let our guard down. The pandemic is not over.

The following restrictions remain in place during the “lay low” period. Please note that even community members who are vaccinated must follow the guidelines below. Vaccination rates are not high enough in our on-campus community to provide protective levels of community immunity.

  • All students are required to stay on campus. Unless you have an extremely urgent need to leave, you should remain on campus. If you have an essential reason to leave (including vaccine appointments), you are required to fill out this form to be reviewed and approved by Student Life. Approval usually takes 24 hours. It is important to follow this request process because depending on the purpose and length of an off-campus trip we are requiring a COVID-19 test upon return — and until your test result is 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. Student Life needs to be able to coordinate follow-up testing as appropriate.
  • Residence Halls and Honor Houses are closed to visitors, including students who live in other residence halls or houses. You may only enter the residence hall/house you reside in.
  • Students should stick to their “social bubble” on campus. It is increasingly critical that you limit your close contacts to a small number of friends on campus in a “social bubble.”
    • The individuals in your “social bubble” are those who you do not always stay masked around or maintain 6 feet of physical distance from (examples: your roommate, your significant other, your very close friends).
    • Your “social bubble” should include no more than 5 people. The bubble should be coordinated with your roommate(s). If you can think of more than 5 people you’re closer to than 6 feet without a mask, you need to shrink your “social bubble.”
    • You are welcome to gather with members of the campus community outside of your “social bubble” — you just need to continue to wear a mask, maintain 6 feet of physical distance at all times, and observe safe room capacities when inside.
    • As the weather improves, consider taking your conversations and activities outside around campus.
  • Masks must continue to be worn at all times in public, including when you’re with your “social bubble” in common areas.
  • 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 experience viral symptoms.
  • Only approved group activities and those that fulfill academic requirements will be allowed. This includes:
    • Meals (please note that you do not need to sign up for a meal time, even during our “lay low” period)
    • Classes and labs
    • Daily chapel and Sunday worship in Boe Memorial Chapel
    • Required and approved music and fine art activities
    • Approved athletic and extracurricular activities
    • Structured events and gatherings approved through Student Activities (see Guidelines for Student Organizations here)
    • Admissions tours (outdoors only)
    • COVID-19 testing

Our campuswide COVID-19 testing continues next week, when we will test all faculty and staff in addition to ongoing targeted testing. This should provide us with another key indicator of how prevalent the virus is on our campus. As we did this week, we will share the results of that testing.

3. Upcoming Vaccine Clinics
The vaccine landscape continues to rapidly evolve in Minnesota, and we have good news to share. Northfield Urgent Care will host a limited availability vaccine clinic on campus next Thursday, April 8. The Minnesota Department of Health has indicated that we need to continue to follow the vaccine priority phases they have outlined, so we will send an email to campus community members who are on our Phase 1A and Phase 1B (initial tiers) priority lists to sign up first. If you are on those lists, you will receive a notification from the college.

Our plan is to offer additional vaccine clinics on Wednesday, April 14, and Thursday, April 15. These will depend entirely on our allotted supply of vaccines. As those dates draw nearer, we will invite campus community members to sign up in priority order. We will also continue to notify priority individuals of available Rice County Public Health vaccine clinics as well.

Knowing that the number of vaccines we have available on campus will initially be limited, I strongly encourage individuals to sign up for the state’s Vaccine Connector and get on your health care provider’s vaccine waiting list. If you have the opportunity to receive the vaccine somewhere else — including at a state vaccination site, through another employer, from your healthcare provider, or at a local pharmacy — please strongly consider it. Students are allowed to leave campus to get a vaccine, but need to fill out the request form.

As always, thank you for your ongoing support and commitment to our community.

Enoch