April 9, 2021 at 12:45 p.m.
Important Information on our COVID-19 Campus Conditions
To St. Olaf College faculty and staffFrom Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis
Dear St. Olaf Community,
I’m writing to provide an important update on the latest developments with our testing of the campus community, current conditions , and what we are planning as next steps for continuing safely with our on-campus living and learning.
This week we asked all faculty and staff to participate in COVID-19 testing, and we continued our targeted testing efforts. Of the 1,169 test results we have received so far, 22 were positive. The vast majority of these new cases are tied to existing cases, which means the individuals who tested positive this week were already in quarantine and therefore the risk of further transmission from these close contacts is limited.
As of today, we have 30 campus community members in isolation and 72 in quarantine. Rice County’s 14-day case rate per 10,000 people increased once again this week, and is currently at 43.79. As I mentioned last week, we are very aware of the increased prevalence of the more contagious virus variants in Minnesota, specifically the B.1.1.7 strain first detected in the United Kingdom.
Proactively responding to the virus
It is clear that the virus is spreading more efficiently on campus this semester. We are not seeing spread during structured events where we are strictly adhering to our Community Standards, including in classrooms and during athletic team practices and competitions. However, we are seeing spread occur through social interactions with lax masking and physical distancing.
The virus has upped its game, so we need to do the same. In practical terms this means sticking with the smart things that have allowed us to navigate the pandemic as a campus community so far. I encourage everyone — students, faculty, and staff — to recommit to our Community Standards, including masking, handwashing, and physical distancing. If you see someone not adhering to our Community Standards, please remind them to do so. If someone reminds you to pull your mask up, maintain physical distance, or adhere to another guideline, follow their suggestion. This isn’t a criticism; it is just looking out for everyone’s best interest.
It is everyone’s responsibility to monitor for symptoms, quarantine if necessary, and get a test. In the first seven weeks of the fall semester we had 67 students present with symptoms and only one tested positive. In about the same amount of time this semester we have had 50 students present with symptoms and 13 have tested positive. If you are feeling any symptoms that may be COVID-19 related, please report them using this form. For on-campus students, we will make sure you get tested immediately and again three days later to ensure we are identifying all possible cases.
At the advice of our health care consultant, we will begin doing approximately 1,000 surveillance tests each week so that we can continue to carefully monitor the prevalence of the virus on campus and limit further spread. Overall, students, faculty, and staff have been fantastic in participating in these tests. Keep it up!
Yellow Campus Alert Level Remains in Place
Because we continue to see a steady number of COVID-19 cases on campus, we will remain in our heightened Yellow Campus Alert Level and “lay low” period. The Yellow Campus Alert Level restrictions I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks remain in place, and they apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people on campus.
We highly encourage all students to stay on campus unless it is necessary to go into Northfield or the local area for essential business, including medical appointments and vaccinations. When you absolutely must leave, you are expected to limit your contacts and observe all COVID-19 precautions. In special cases in which you need to stay overnight off campus, you must fill out this form to be reviewed and approved by Student Life so they can coordinate appropriate arrangements for quarantine and testing when you return.
As we live through this pandemic, we are confronted with new challenges just as the vaccine has become more available. We are working to get the campus community access to vaccines as quickly we can through on-campus vaccine clinics as well as through the Rice County vaccination center in Faribault. We also continue to encourage members of the community to seek the vaccine from other sources including Northfield Hospital and Clinics waitlist and local pharmacies. There are vaccine finder websites that can aid in the search, including the MDH site, VaccineFinder (operated by Boston Childrens’ Hospital and supported by the CDC), and other sites.
It has been described that we are in a race between the variants and our ability to vaccinate our population. While the vaccine supply is out of our direct control, our ability to reduce on-campus transmission by proactively taking individual responsibility to physically distance, wear masks, monitor our symptoms, and stick to smaller groups is not. We are on a good path to have a full semester on campus and allow our graduating seniors a well-deserved in-person commencement. Let’s do this together!