December 22, 2021 at 12:17 p.m.
IMPORTANT: COVID Update for Interim
To St. Olaf College staff and faculty
From Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis
Dear St. Olaf Community,
I’m writing with a critical update to our plans for Interim, prompted by the global surge of the Omicron variant and taken out of an abundance of caution for our community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that the variant has quickly become the dominant strain circulating in the U.S., currently responsible for nearly three-quarters of all reported COVID-19 cases and likely all cases by the end of December.
Cases are multiplying at a rate we’ve never experienced in this pandemic, even in highly vaccinated campus communities much like our own. Our goal, as it was in the fall, is to preserve as much of the on-campus student experience as possible as we navigate through this challenging turn in the pandemic. As a result, we have determined that the safest course of action is to limit on-campus activity and shift to remote classes and work where possible for the full month of Interim. Most students will not be returning to campus for Interim.
We believe taking a phased approach to our return will put us in the best possible position for a successful, in-person spring semester.
Phase 1: Interim (December 26-January 28)
Limited on-campus activity
- Students who have been pre-approved to be on campus during winter break may continue to do so.
- Students who have not made arrangements to be on campus or return to campus during the break may return to campus only for specific, approved reasons, including musicians participating in St. Olaf Choir, St. Olaf Orchestra, and Jazz 1 ensembles and in-season athletes competing in varsity sports. Those groups will be required to follow heightened safety protocols, including frequent testing, and may need to shift plans based on COVID-related restrictions. You will receive additional instructions from Student Life, coaches, and the Music Organizations office by the end of day Thursday.
- A limited number of lab or studio-driven classes will be held in person. Those students will get additional instructions by the end of the day Thursday.
- Visitors will not be allowed on campus without prior approval.
- The campus is not closed, but faculty and staff who can work remotely during January are encouraged to do so based on guidance from their Department Chair and Associate Dean or from their supervisor, who will be consulting with their Division leader.
- Students, faculty, and staff who return to campus for Interim are strongly encouraged to test 24-48 hours before returning to campus. Access to testing in the community may be limited and we recommend buying or scheduling a test as soon as possible.
During this phase, everyone should follow these mitigation strategies:
- Boosters: The latest information on boosters is that they increase the efficacy of vaccines against the Omicron variant, and that benefit is realized two weeks after getting it. So, it is vital that all members of the campus community get a COVID-19 booster as soon as possible. Booster shots are required by Feb. 1 for all students, faculty, and staff. The vast majority of our community currently qualifies for a booster shot (six months past your second Pfizer or Moderna shot or two months past your single Johnson & Johnson dose.) Report your booster shot using our COVID-19 reporting form.
- Socializing: During the holidays, it is important to celebrate in a safe and “COVID-smart” manner. Our experience has proven that most of our spread has come through informal social interactions and not structured activities. Let’s keep this in mind as we enjoy time with family and friends during this break.
- Masking: Starting December 26, masks are required indoors while on campus, regardless of vaccination status. The only exceptions are for students in their own residence hall room when there are no guests (other than their roommates), or faculty and staff in their enclosed office if they are the sole occupant. If you are off campus, we strongly encourage you to mask in indoor public spaces or crowded outdoor settings.
- Symptoms: Stay home when you feel sick. If you live in campus housing or are regularly coming to campus, report symptoms using our COVID-19 reporting form, and get tested.
- Testing: All students, faculty, and staff who will be living, working, or attending classes on campus during Interim must participate in two rounds of baseline testing in January. The first round of testing will be held Tuesday, January 4, through Thursday, January 6. Sign up for your testing slot now.
- As during the fall, testing will continue to be available for students living on campus and faculty and staff working on campus when symptoms or exposure is reported using our COVID-19 reporting form. Also fill out the COVID-19 reporting form to report any positive test that you get on your own, whether you are on campus or not.
Phase 2: Spring semester (Begins February 8)
We intend to make a full, in-person return for spring semester in February. Pausing much of our on-campus activity in January will give us the opportunity to strengthen our COVID-19 contact tracing and case management workforce and protocols, learn more about the impact of Omicron, and allow us to return with more of our community fully boosted.
More details will be coming about spring semester. You can expect two rounds of campus-wide testing after our return, and other potential mitigation measures as we seek to continue our earlier success in creating and maintaining our campus “bubble.”
While I know that this news is disappointing and we are all frustrated that COVID is disrupting our plans again, we have developed this plan after careful consideration of what is currently known about the Omicron variant. We are reaching this challenging point in the pandemic in a position of strength because of how our community has managed COVID-19.
Your cooperation and attention to the protocols we’ve put in place have helped us to provide a robust, in-person experience this fall. Building on the work we’ve already done will serve us well as we seek to provide the best possible campus experience for the upcoming semester.
All the best for the Holidays and New Year!