March 24, 2021 at 7:47 p.m.
Update on COVID-19 Testing, the Spread We’re Seeing, and Campus Restrictions
To St. Olaf College studentsFrom Campus Reopening Lead Enoch Blazis
I’m writing with an important update on what we’re seeing in COVID-19 testing and cases on campus.
Last week we conducted 619 surveillance, symptomatic, and targeted tests, and 5 people tested positive. We also tested 299 student-athletes and coaches last week, and 1 tested positive.
This week’s testing is still underway. Of the 633 surveillance, symptomatic, and targeted tests we have conducted so far this week, 11 people tested positive. Of the 221 student-athletes and coaches tested so far, 4 tested positive.
The virus is spreading quickly and efficiently among close contacts on campus, and primarily through social gatherings where people are not masked and are within 6 feet of each other. We are not seeing spread in classrooms or other structured activities where we’re strictly adhering to our Community Standards.
Here’s what else we’re seeing:
- Almost all of our positive cases are people who were a close contact of another community member who tested positive.
- Any campus community member who is named a close contact is quickly quarantined and tested twice — once right away, and again several days later. Many of the individuals who have tested positive in the last few weeks were already in quarantine through this protocol, which is critical in helping us contain the spread of the virus.
Locally, Rice County’s 14-day case rate per 10,000 people increased again last week, and is currently at 26.21. Given the prevalence of more contagious variants of COVID-19 statewide, we are operating under the assumption that we may continue to see the virus spread more quickly on campus.
We need to take steps now to respond to what we’re seeing on campus and hearing about the COVID-19 variants across the state. Beginning today, we will take a step back and return to the heightened Yellow Campus Alert Level restrictions that we had in place several weeks ago. During this “lay low” period, the following guidelines will once again be in place:
- All students are required to stay on campus. If you have an essential reason to travel off campus (such as work or a medical appointment), you are required to fill out this form to be reviewed and approved by Student Life. Students who live off campus should keep their activities limited to their residence and campus, and also need to fill out the form above for anything beyond that. Anyone who is approved to leave campus must adhere to all Community Standards while away, including masking, physical distancing, and frequent handwashing. Pamela McDowell will follow up directly with students who have previously been approved to leave campus with updated guidance and, if applicable, information on what restrictions will be in place upon their return to campus.
- Residence Halls and Honor Houses will only be open to visitors (students who live in other residence halls or houses) from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Students should stick to their “social bubble” on campus. We need you to once again limit your close contacts to a small number of friends on campus in a “social bubble.”
- The individuals in your “social bubble” are those who you do not always stay masked around or maintain 6 feet of physical distance from (think: your roommate, your significant other, your very close friends).
- Your “social bubble” should include no more than 5 people. The bubble should be coordinated with your roommate(s). If you can think of more than 5 people you’re closer to than 6 feet without a mask, you need to shrink your social bubble.
- You’re welcome to gather with members of the campus community outside of your “social bubble” — you just need to continue to wear a mask and maintain 6 feet of physical distance at all times when you’re with anyone outside of your bubble.
- Masks must continue to be worn at all times in public, including when you’re with your “social bubble” in common areas.
- You must report to the college if you have a positive test result, have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, or if you have viral symptoms.
- Only approved group activities and those that fulfill academic requirements will be allowed. This includes:
- Classes and labs
- Daily chapel and Sunday worship in Boe Memorial Chapel
- Required and approved music and fine art activities
- Approved athletic and extracurricular activities
- Recreational pickup games of basketball, soccer, frisbee, etc. are not allowed at this time.
- Intramural and club sports will pause all contact activities; structured non-contact activities (i.e., badminton, kickball) will be allowed to continue. More information on these changes will be added to the St. Olaf Recreation web page.
- Varsity athletic teams will:
- Reduce the size of practice pods
- Pause all contact practices and move to non-contact practices
- Increase testing of student athletes
- Structured events and gatherings approved through Student Activities (see Guidelines for Student Organizations here)
- Admissions tours
- We are in conversation about in-person student-led Admissions tours during this “lay low” period. The tours we began offering today are very small — limited to only the tour guide, one admitted student, and up to 2 guests per time slot — and visitors remain masked and physically distanced from tour guides and are on campus for only about one hour. We will continue to update the community as this conversation continues.
- COVID-19 testing
We know that it’s difficult to have to “turn back the dial” in this way, particularly as the state eases restrictions. We feel confident that by taking these steps now, in conjunction with our strong testing and quarantine protocols, we can stay on top of the cases on campus and remain together in person. But we need to be cautious and work together as a community — we’re all in this together. Thank you in advance for your cooperation and support.
Based on recent conversations between Rice County Public Health, St. Olaf, and Carleton, it does not look like there is the possibility of doing a campus-wide vaccination clinic in the near future. The distribution of vaccines is prioritized by the state. The Minnesota Department of Health’s vaccine distribution plan prioritizes people by age, medical/health conditions, and job occupation. This means that the vaccine will be made available to individuals by this priority vs. by institution. We have provided the numbers of faculty, staff, and students that fall in the current priority categories to Rice County. I would also encourage individuals to sign up for the Vaccine Connector and get on your health care provider’s vaccine waiting list.
While increased statewide vaccination rates show a lot of promise, individual habits remain an essential part of curtailing COVID-19. Thank you for your continued resiliency and support for one another.