November 22, 2021 at 10:03 a.m.
COVID Response Update
To St. Olaf College staff and faculty
From Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis
Dear St. Olaf Community,
As many of us prepare to travel or gather with others over Thanksgiving break, I’m writing to let you know about two important steps we’re taking to ensure COVID-19 transmission remains low when we return to campus.
Our safety protocols and high vaccination rates have proved extremely successful this fall, allowing us to return to the events, activities and in-person classroom learning that are at the heart of the St. Olaf experience. We remain confident in the strength of these measures, but ensuring we can keep up that momentum through the end of the fall semester means we must continue to be responsive to what’s happening with the virus in our broader community.
Minnesota is facing some of the highest COVID-19 case numbers it has seen in the entire course of the pandemic, and last week had the worst 7-day case rate in the country; other Midwestern states are on a similar trajectory. At St. Olaf, thankfully, the picture is far brighter. Nearly every case we’ve tracked in recent days involve people infected through family or other social gatherings, so we must look to the Thanksgiving holiday with some added caution.
Layering mitigation measures is our strongest defense to maintain our protective “bubble” around campus. So in the initial days of our return from Thanksgiving, we’ll combine campus-wide testing with masking indoors until we can get a full sense of the impact of our Thanksgiving activities.
Beginning Saturday, November 27, masking indoors will be required for everyone on campus, regardless of vaccination status. (The one exception will be for students when in their own rooms in residence halls and honor houses.) This step comes out of an abundance of caution and we do not anticipate this will be an ongoing change. We consider the masking requirement to be a modified Green Alert condition. A decision about when to drop the mandatory masking rule will come once we receive the results from campus-wide testing. If the results show that transmission of the virus continues to be low among our community members, we should be able to relax this measure.
Results will be available about 24 hours after each of the three days of campus-wide testing, and we will keep you informed as those results come in.
All students, faculty and staff will be tested for COVID-19 during the week after Thanksgiving break. Testing will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Tuesday, Nov. 30 through Thursday, Dec. 2 at Tostrud Center. Testing is mandatory, and we urge you to sign up now for a testing slot from the choices below:
Additional testing for Christmas Festival participants will take place at Tostrud during the same week, and tests will remain available for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms. (If you’re feeling ill, please fill out the health reporting form, rather than waiting if your test slot is still days away.)
Late last week, the CDC opened up booster eligibility to all adults, which means that you qualify for a booster shot if you are six months past your second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two months past your one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The CDC also said specifically that anyone 50 and older should get a booster shot.
The Minnesota Department of Health has noted that waning immunity from earlier vaccines (specifically six or more months after the two-shot vaccines) is a driver of breakthrough COVID-19 cases, so please consider signing up for a booster shot at a pharmacy or clinic with shots available. We’ve added booster shots to our COVID-19 health reporting form, so add your booster information after you get the shot, or if you’ve already had your booster.
I want to reiterate that we hope this return to masking will be short lived, providing the reassurance we need to resume campus life as we left it before Thanksgiving.
To that end, one last reminder and request: please take added precautions as you travel and gather with friends and family this week. Wear a mask, especially if you will be spending time in a large group or with people who may not be vaccinated. Stay home if you feel sick, and get tested to ensure you’re not bringing COVID-19 with you back to campus.
Thank you for your attention and cooperation now, and when we return.