August 5, 2021 at 4:19 p.m.
Fall COVID-19 Guidance
To St. Olaf College faculty and staff
From Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis
Dear St. Olaf Community,
As we approach the start of the fall semester, I want to provide an update on the safety measures St. Olaf is putting in place as we continue to monitor and manage the impact of COVID-19. Our intent is to offer as much of the St. Olaf campus experience as possible while keeping our community safe given the changing pandemic conditions.
Our most important mitigation measure is our vaccine requirement. I’m pleased to report that 94 percent of students and 95 percent of employees are fully vaccinated as of August 5. We will continue to monitor and update this number as we provide students who have been unable to be vaccinated with an opportunity to do so upon their arrival to campus.
This level of community vaccination means that we are on track to offer a less restrictive experience both in and outside the classroom this fall. Being vaccinated is the most important step everyone can take to avoid severe illness or hospitalization.
We have been closely monitoring the new CDC guidance and information related to the Delta variant, and we have held conversations with our healthcare consultant and campus leaders about what this new information means for St. Olaf.
A couple of key facts that are important to know about the Delta variant:
- It is significantly more infectious because it takes less time to infect those within close proximity who are unmasked and indoors.
- There is evidence that it spreads among both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
- Nationally, the rate of hospitalizations in younger unvaccinated people is higher than with previous variants, and there are more severe health outcomes among young people who are unvaccinated.
As a result, the CDC has modified its guidance and is now recommending that fully vaccinated people:
- Wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.
- Wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if people are immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, or if they have someone in their household who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease, or not fully vaccinated.
- Those who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and to wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.
Given this new information, we will be conducting two rounds of return-to-campus COVID-19 testing so that we can assess the presence of the virus in our community and isolate any cases. All students, faculty, and staff will take a COVID-19 test upon returning to campus, and then another test 13 days later. The St. Olaf Testing Team will be sending more information on dates and times for testing in the coming weeks.
We also highly recommend that students and those accompanying them as they return to campus take a COVID-19 test a few days prior to traveling back to St. Olaf. This will help to minimize the cases on campus we may need to deal with at the beginning of the semester.
We will also require students to mask indoors when they arrive on campus. Faculty, staff, and students currently living and working on campus will be required to mask indoors beginning Monday, August 9. All campus visitors must mask indoors as well, and we strongly encourage masking outdoors in crowded settings and for activities with close contact with others who may not be fully vaccinated. We will reassess this masking requirement once we have completed the two rounds of return-to-campus COVID-19 testing and have an understanding of the prevalence of the virus on campus.
These COVID-19 testing and masking measures will help ensure that we keep the Delta variant from spreading in our community as we all return to campus. Our vaccine requirement will also serve to protect our community against the Delta variant. While there is growing evidence of breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people, the U.S.-authorized vaccines are still considered effective in protecting individuals against the virus (including the Delta variant).
We considered a few key factors as part of our decision to implement these additional measures. One is that the CDC lists Rice County as currently having “high” COVID-19 spread, and we have students returning to campus from other geographic regions with substantial or high transmission. The other factor is that many of our students, faculty, and staff have members of their households who are under the age of 12 and do not have the protection of a vaccine.
Beyond baseline testing and masking indoors, we are not adding other measures (physical distancing, activity restrictions, etc.) at this time. It is important that everyone understands the symptoms of COVID-19. All St. Olaf community members must report any symptoms, exposure, or close contact using the Health Reporting Form and get tested when necessary.
We will continue to monitor the data and latest information from the CDC and MDH, as well as the advice and insight of our healthcare consultant, and will provide ongoing updates and information about our Campus Alert Level as we approach the start of the fall semester.
Thank you for doing your part to keep yourself and our community safe.