St. Olaf College | COVID-19

January 6, 2022 at 4:24 p.m.

COVID Response Update

To St. Olaf College staff and faculty
From Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis

Dear St. Olaf Community,

Happy new year to each of you. As much as we’d all hoped to begin a new year unshadowed by the pandemic, COVID-19 is still very much here and continuing to impact our operations on and off campus.

I’m writing with three important updates:

  1. A positivity rate of 6.5% from the first day of this week’s baseline testing
  2. Anticipated move to Orange (high) Campus Alert Level
  3. Critical reminders about boosters, masking and other measures

Test results
As projected, the surging Omicron variant has made its way to our campus, resulting in more positive cases than we’ve seen at any point in this academic year — even with significantly fewer people on campus.

Testing for all students, faculty and staff who are on campus began Tuesday and ends today. As we await the results from Wednesday and Thursday, we can share what we’ve learned from the first day of testing.

On Tuesday, we tested 843 members of our community. Of that group, we had 55 positive tests, resulting in a test positivity rate of 6.5%. Those numbers are considerably higher than what we saw during the fall semester, and in line with the increased transmission we expected to see with the Omicron variant. The total number of people testing positive will undoubtedly rise as we receive results from Wednesday and Thursday testing. We were prepared to see this level of positivity as students returned to campus and was one of the primary reasons for reducing the number of people on campus in January.

We’ll be able to share the full results by early next week, when we’ll begin a second round of campus-wide testing. Next week’s second round is important as we assess how the virus is circulating on campus as we brought back approximately half of our student population. Look for a note soon from the COVID-19 testing team with information about signing up for the second round of testing.

A reminder: you should report any positive COVID test, even if you are off campus. Use our COVID-19 reporting form to submit your information.

Campus Alert Level
We are currently at a modified Yellow (medium) Campus Alert Level. This variant is circulating quickly and efficiently, putting a great deal of pressure on our COVID-19 case management processes and overall campus operations. Because of those demands and the significant uptick in cases and test positivity rates, we expect to shift to an Orange (high) Campus Alert Level on Monday. We will make that determination once we have the full results from this week’s testing and a more complete picture of the infection rate for our entire campus community. You should expect that this shift may come with some changes to our protocols on campus.

We have re-established our alert levels to align with updated Minnesota Department of Health guidance and in consultation with our advising epidemiologist, as well as our strategies for responding to this phase of the pandemic. We are closely tracking the situation on campus, in Northfield and Rice County and across Minnesota as we determine what measures are necessary to keep our community safe and our campus operating.

Please continue to be mindful of the increased safety protocols that we’ve outlined in other recent messages. Among them: visitors are not allowed in residence halls, and students are expected to remain on campus other than for approved activities and essential travel, including medical appointments, work, or internships. Faculty and staff should hold meetings remotely, rather than in person, whenever possible. Regardless of whether or not you are living, working or spending time on campus, you should report your symptoms, exposure, and a positive result from any test you may have taken on your own and/or while off campus.

Boosters and Masks
COVID booster shots are one of our most important tools in minimizing the impact of this omicron surge. If you haven’t already received your booster shot, do so as soon as possible. Boosters are required for all students, faculty and staff, volunteers, independent contractors, and staffing agency employees by Feb. 1. If you are not yet eligible for your booster by Feb. 1 then you are required to get one within two weeks of your eligibility. Remember to report your booster using our COVID-19 reporting form.

The increased transmissibility of the omicron variant means that proper mask use — and using high quality masks — are more important than ever. The Minnesota Department of Health has updated its guidance to recommend that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wears a high-quality mask with better filtration capabilities, like an N95 or KN95. If you don’t have access to one of those masks, aim for a mask with at least two layers of fabric, or layer a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask.

Masks are required at all times while indoors on campus, other than for students in their own rooms and faculty/staff working alone in their private, enclosed office.

We’ll continue to share more information and guidance as we learn more about how the virus is impacting our community. I recognize and appreciate that the shifts made for Interim have been challenging; we are all weary of the many adjustments this pandemic has thrust upon us. While not welcomed or easy, the things we do now will help us navigate this latest COVID surge and be in a better position to be fully in-person for the Spring Semester.

I continue to be grateful for your attention, patience and care for one another. Thanks for doing your part as we move into this new year.