August 24, 2021 at 12:39 p.m.
Update on Fall COVID Response
To St. Olaf College faculty and staff
From Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis
Dear St. Olaf Faculty and Staff,
As we look forward to kicking off the academic year and welcoming students back to campus, I have several important COVID-19 updates that I’d like to share.
With the Delta Variant surge both across the nation and locally (see Rice County data here), we have a layered COVID-19 testing plan to open our academic year. Our highly vaccinated campus will allow us to start the semester with cautious confidence. New research shows that the Delta variant is much more contagious and vaccines are less effective against infection. Therefore, our plan’s first layer is to strongly encourage all students, faculty, and staff to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to returning to campus. Faculty and staff who have stayed in the Northfield area over the summer should consider timing a self-test prior to any large gatherings or meetings before the start of the semester. While different states have different options for accessing tests, in Minnesota at-home kits can be ordered here or purchased at many local pharmacies. Should you test positive or are symptomatic, please fill out the Health Reporting Form and stay home until you have recovered.
The second layer of our testing plan is to conduct two rounds of COVID-19 tests for all students, faculty, and staff upon their return to campus. Last year our goal for baseline testing was to establish a bubble, while this year’s baseline testing aims to assess the virus’ presence in the campus community. The assessment will inform the strategies needed to safely hold in-person classes, gatherings, and activities.
Round 1 testing will occur September 7-9 and Round 2 from September 20-21. The Tostrud Fieldhouse will be our testing center and, like last year, you will bring your ID, be asked to fill out an electronic consent form, and then complete a saliva test. Please watch for a separate sign-up email from the C19 Test Team. Results from initial return to campus testing of athletes have been encouraging with a very low positivity rate.
Until these two rounds of testing are complete, all students, faculty, and staff must remain masked in public indoor spaces. Once we have the results of these tests back, we will reevaluate our masking policy.
If you test positive for COVID-19 — regardless of your vaccination status — you will need to isolate for 10 days at home. We will also continue our contact tracing process this year, but our protocols are slightly different due to vaccinations. If you are identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and you are fully vaccinated, you will need to test 3 to 5 days after your exposure and again 7 to 10 days after your exposure. During the intervening time, you will be asked to mask but may attend classes, go to work, and move around campus. If the second test is negative, you’ll resume your normal routine. If it is positive, you will be isolated for 10 days.
For those who are not fully vaccinated, close contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 will quarantine for 14 days.
The definition of a close contact is still anyone who has been within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more, cumulative throughout a day, regardless of whether you were masked or not.
We have updated our Community Standards to reflect the practices and policies that will be in place this year. Please review this document as you return to campus.
Faculty and Staff COVID Town Hall – August 31
The President’s Leadership Team will host a Zoom town hall for all faculty and staff on August 31 from 1:30-2:30 p.m.. We will use that time to review our COVID-19 alert levels and plans for fall. I know not everyone will be available to attend, so it will be recorded to share with absent faculty and staff. We will also share with students, who are arriving at many different times. Please submit your questions here by August 31.
Thank you for your support and diligence as we ready ourselves for another year of campus life amid an evolving pandemic.