September 30, 2021 at 5:33 p.m.
To St. Olaf College staff and faculty
From Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis
Dear St. Olaf Community,
It’s been one week since we shared our report on COVID-19 test results and the protocol changes prompted by the very low levels of infection and transmission on campus. Since then, you’ve had many good questions about how to navigate this phase of our pandemic response. I’m writing with some answers and an update on some of the measures we’re tracking.
We are encouraged that we continue to see very low levels of COVID-19 transmission on campus. It’s clear that our high vaccination rates and other mitigation measures (such as continuing to require visitors to mask) are having an impact. Our continued testing of students, faculty and staff who report symptoms or are close contacts of people with COVID-19 has revealed very limited spread of the virus. Of the 370 close contacts we’ve tracked and tested, only six have themselves tested positive.
Through contact tracing, we’ve been able to learn more about where COVID-19 is spreading on campus — and where it’s not. The majority of positive cases can be tracked to social interactions. We have no evidence that any positive cases on campus have resulted from classroom interactions.
For current information, you can always check our dashboard, which was also recently updated to reflect our shift from baseline all-campus testing to more targeted testing. Positivity rates are now calculated based on the total number of students, staff and faculty, rather than the number of tests as we continue to track and report the 14-day infection rate in our campus population.
We remain this week at a Green Campus Alert Level, and masks are not required for students, staff and faculty indoors or outdoors. But as we have noted, these relaxed rules come with some nuance, and with the need to treat each other with patience and respect.
Faculty members may ask students to wear masks while in their classroom or office, and staff members, including student workers, may request that others mask while in their workspace. We recognize and understand that people have different comfort levels with the end of the mask requirement. We expect everyone to respect those who choose to continue wearing masks. While you may not need it everywhere, please keep your mask handy as you move around campus.
The College is testing students, faculty and staff who are symptomatic or identified as close contacts by our Contact Tracing team.
The first step if you have symptoms is to report them; you will then be contacted for next steps. Please do not “drop in” at our daily testing site.
Large events and off-campus considerations
Though we have relaxed our masking rules, large indoor events, especially in confined spaces may call for masking. Decisions about masking requirements and other health safety protocols for large on-campus events will be made after consultation with our epidemiologist and COVID-19 Point Team, and based on factors including airflow, building capacity and transmission rates on campus.
We also remind everyone to be more vigilant while off campus and in public, knowing that you are in a different COVID environment than when on campus. We strongly encourage you to mask in these circumstances. The rate of COVID in Northfield increased significantly over the last week from 17 to 34 daily cases per 100,000.
A reminder as we approach Homecoming and Family Weekend: all St. Olaf guests are required to wear masks indoors at all times.
If you are bringing people to campus, it is your responsibility to inform your visitors about our COVID-19 rules and expectations.
Thank you for your cooperation. We are continuing to monitor the conditions in our community and the region, and are prepared to adjust our campus protocols based on that data. I appreciate your attention to these updates, and your efforts to look out for yourselves and others. We come at this work with a common purpose: moving forward safely with the most fulfilling St. Olaf experience we can provide.