St. Olaf College | COVID-19

March 10, 2022 at 11:01 a.m.

COVID Campus Response Update

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

Dear St. Olaf Community,

I’m writing with an update on the rise in COVID-19 cases we’ve experienced over the past two weeks, and our response.

As you can see in this chart, cases on campus peaked on March 2 and have been coming down since that date. This tracks with how Omicron has surged in other communities, with a rapid rise in cases and a slightly slower, but steady, decline. Nearly all of our positive cases since the start of the semester have been in students, which reflects the ongoing decline in COVID-19 transmission in the broader community.

This surge in cases has been unwelcome, and has caused additional stress and frustration for many members of our community. I know it has also prompted some confusion about how and when we’ve adjusted our COVID-19 protocols. The 14-day case rate is one of several factors that are considered in our Alert Level and response. At this point, we are not planning any specific changes to our mitigation measures, or our Campus Alert Level, which remains at Yellow (medium), with masks required indoors.

Here’s what else factors into that decision, which was made in consultation with and at the recommendation of our epidemiologist:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has redefined its COVID-19 Community Levels, putting more emphasis on the severity of the impact of the virus via hospitalizations. Because our campus is highly vaccinated and boosted, our severity has been extremely low. Those who have tested positive have had mild, though unpleasant, symptoms.
  • We know where COVID-19 is—and is not—spreading on campus. The cases we’ve seen in the last two weeks are nearly all among students, and are primarily the result of informal social gatherings. We are not seeing widespread transmission related to classrooms, workplace activity or structured campus events.
  • Masking has an impact. When cases started rising last week, we quickly implemented masking requirements and asked our community to limit the size of social gatherings. Those measures look to be having an impact, with cases declining since making these shifts.
  • Mental health matters. We recognize that restricting in-person activity on campus can affect our community members’ mental health, especially as we enter the third year of the pandemic. Providing in-person opportunities for learning, socializing and recreating is a priority and something we balance alongside other health considerations.
  • We are ready to pivot, if needed. If a new variant begins causing more severe illness in our community, we can quickly implement additional mitigation measures.

Our priority now, as it has been for the entire pandemic, is to safely provide the most robust campus experience possible for our community. We need each of you to continue to do your part by masking up, staying home when you feel sick, and reporting your symptoms, exposures or positive tests using our COVID-19 reporting form. Limit your social gatherings to small groups of no more than 5-6 people.

Testing continues for anyone who is experiencing symptoms or is identified as a close contact. Because the vast majority of people who test positive have symptoms (typically nasal congestion, a scratchy throat and/or fatigue), this targeted testing is our best way to find and isolate people who could be spreading COVID-19.

Please use COVID common sense this weekend, and in these last weeks before spring break. Let’s work together to keep cases trending in the right direction, and do our part so everyone can enjoy the break.