COVID-19 Status Blog

Increased Testing, Continued Focus on Public Health Practices for Spring Semester 2021

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As we start the spring semester, it remains true that our best protection to avoid the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a mask, maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from others, regularly wash our hands, and stay home when we feel sick. This is especially important now that the new, more contagious, variant of SARS-CoV-2 has been identified in Minnesota.

Each day when you come to campus or leave your on-campus residence, remember to complete the Campus Clear app. It’s important that you stay home if you have any symptoms, or if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19, and submit the Augsburg self-reporting form so our response team can guide you through the appropriate actions to take.

To support the health of our campus community, Augsburg continues to operate in alignment with guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, including the January 6 executive order from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz. Below is an update about what to expect in various areas on the Minneapolis campus as we launch the semester. For more details, go to the Auggie Guide Spring 2021, which was emailed last week to all students.

COVID-19 testing. The Minnesota Department of Health strongly recommends more frequent COVID-19 testing this spring. Testing is much more readily available now than last summer or fall, so individuals may consider getting tested regularly, even if you don’t have symptoms or a known exposure. See the updated COVID-19 testing information on Augsburg’s Outbreak Planning site for details about testing timing and resources.

Residence halls. Augsburg’s residence halls remain open for all resident students. The policies and practices that we implemented this fall were effective in mitigating outbreaks in residence halls. Our current guest policy limitations—two guests (who are also Augsburg resident students) per residential unit—will remain in effect.

Dining services. The Commons and Einsteins will remain open for food service for the spring semester. Christensen Center Commons offers grab-and-go items for all meals as well as expanded hot breakfast and lunch service. Einstein’s provides hot sandwiches and coffee drinks along with chilled beverages and grab-and-go items. The Commons accepts all meal plans, including Flex points, and credit/debit cards; payment at Einstein’s is limited to Flex points, meal replacement, and credit/debit cards. There are no cash transactions at either location at this time. Kafe Kafeega in the Hagfors Center and Nabo remain closed for food service.

Classes. As was the case in the fall, in the spring term Augsburg will offer a number of classes with face-to-face components. Across the state, the Minnesota Department of Health did not report transmission in classroom environments when masking and physical distancing were maintained. We will be offering more classes with a face-to-face component this spring. Students can check course modalities in Records and Registration. Any changes that become necessary, owing to our campus transmission levels or official public health requirements, will be announced. Instructors who determine, on the basis of particular issues in a given course, that a change of modality is required must file the change with the Registrar’s Office for it to become official.

Student services. Several student services will continue to be provided virtually—including Academic Advising, the Center for Counseling and Wellness, the CLASS Office, the Enrollment Center (Student Financial Services and Registrar), and Multicultural Student Services. Students may call or email to set up virtual appointments. In specific instances, there are face-to-face meetings available. Please see the Student Services Index for specific hours and contact information.

Events. Campus events will continue to follow the latest recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health and most recent executive order. Please continue to work with the department of university events for proper event execution. External and departmentally hosted events will continue to be paused for the spring semester.

Access to campus buildings. Fob access to campus buildings for students, staff, and faculty will continue through the spring semester. As we return to campus, we ask that students pay particular attention to consistently wearing masks (even when alone) and maintaining distance when using study rooms, remote learning rooms, and common study spaces. In all indoor spaces, it is important that people continue to wear masks, even when alone, in order to protect people who may enter the space after you.

Athletics and fitness center. The gymnasium and athletics fitness centers will be open to all students, staff, and faculty (no guests). The facilities are managed on a first-come-first-served basis, and the number of people will be limited to allow for proper distancing. Those entering the facilities must wear sign in, display their Campus Clear app, and have their temperature taken. Masks are required at all times when using the athletic facilities, including during exercise. The dome and ice rink will have more limited hours and availability; see the Athletics information on the Student Services Index for specific hours and contact information.

For intercollegiate athletic teams, the Athletics Department will adhere to the robust testing protocol outlined by the NCAA and Minnesota Department of Health, which ensures student-athletes and necessary athletics staff are tested frequently and individuals with COVID-19 or exposed to someone with the virus are quickly moved into isolation and quarantine to mitigate spread.

Campus operations. Augsburg’s current modified operations are already in line with the latest recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health following the governor’s January 6 executive order. Augsburg’s Coronavirus Task Force will continue to monitor any changes in public health recommendations and guidelines.

14 Days Until the Start of Spring Semester

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Augsburg’s on-campus transmission rates remain low during the first week of the year-end break. No new on-campus student cases or employee cases were confirmed, as of December 26, for the week. As always, because of the standard delay in positive test reports, additional cases may be confirmed in the future for prior weeks.

Monday, December 28, marks 14 days before the first day of spring-term classes. Dean of Students Sarah Griesse sent the following email to all students to support safe public health practices over the New Year holiday and in preparation for the beginning of the spring semester:

 

Dear Auggies,

In 14 days, Augsburg’s spring semester begins. Starting off the term being healthy and rested leads to greater success. Now is the time to minimize your interactions to close contacts in a closed group. December 28 marks 14 days before the first day of class. It is the COVID incubation period. This is a good time to review your plans for the next two weeks and consider what steps you need to take to prepare for the semester ahead.

As the year comes to a close, the Minnesota Department of Health provides information for Safer Holiday Celebrations. A good read before welcoming in the New Year, 2021.

Always remember to…..
* Wear a mask/face covering.
* Stay at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you.
* Wash your hands regularly.

Looking forward to a Happy New Year!!!

Sarah

Sarah Griesse, Ph.D.
Dean of Students
Augsburg University

Pronouns: she/ her/ hers

On-campus Case Rate Low as We Enter Finals Week; Cases and Hospitalizations Continue to Decline Statewide

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In the final week of the Fall 2020 semester, Augsburg’s on-campus case student case rate remains low. As always, because of the standard delay in positive test reports, additional cases may be confirmed for prior weeks.

Augsburg’s weekly case rate trends in the past two months have largely reflected the increases and declines statewide.  Given the data available to date (see December 16 Twitter posts from MPR’s David Montgomery), statewide case rates appear to have peaked in the second half of November.

Trends in cases, hospitalizations, and COVID-19-related deaths in the state will likely inform decision from the State of Minnesota about public health restrictions beyond the December 18 end date of the Minnesota Governor’s November 21 executive order (see November 23 COVID-19 Status Blog post for additional information). These changes are expected to be announced the afternoon of December 16.

Low On-Campus Case Rate Coincides With Slight Statewide Decline

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Augsburg’s on-campus student COVID-19 transmission rate has been in the low range for the past two weeks (though cases could still be confirmed for that time period and bump the rate into the moderate range). The decline in cases could be the result of fewer people getting tests, decreased exposures as a result of actions taken to comply with the most recent Minnesota Governor’s executive order (including the pause in athletics practices), less activity on campus in the final weeks of the semester, or, likely some combination of factors.

The decline coincides with a drop in cases across Minnesota in the latter half of November. The number of cases and hospitalizations still remains very high, but has declined slightly in recent weeks a mid-November peak. If that decline is going to be offset as a result of gatherings and social interaction over Thanksgiving, the numbers will begin to show as early as later this week. MPR’s David Montgomery provides a helpful overview of case and testing rates in the December 7 Understanding COVID Today newsletter.

Because it takes a number of weeks for case rates to come back down after mitigation efforts are enacted and because case numbers across the state are still quite high even after the decline in the past two weeks, member of the Augsburg community should continue to carefully adhere to public health guidelines. Wearing masks, maintaining distance, and reducing time and proximity in interactions are important ways to protect your health in these last two weeks of the semester.

Post-Thanksgiving Public Health Guidance

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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and tests declined in Minnesota last week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, though hospitalizations did not. Public health officials are expecting to see a surge in cases beginning as early as this week and into mid-December as a result of people traveling and gathering over the Thanksgiving break.

If you were one of them, medical experts say you should assume you were exposed to the virus, quarantine for 10-14 days, and get tested 5-7 days after returning from the break.

There were no on-campus student cases reported for last week as of Monday morning, November 30, but cases may still be confirmed. Because of the high transmission rate in the region, everyone on campus is advised to continue to be vigilant about wearing masks and not gathering with others, especially indoors, during the final weeks of the semester.

Four-Week Dial Back in Effect Through December 18

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Last week, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order limiting specific activities from November 21 through December 18. Targeted areas include social gatherings, in-person service in bars and restaurants, fitness centers, and youth and adult sports. At the same time, the Minnesota Department of Health recommended that all colleges and universities operation according to the Scenario 4 (sustained transmission) guidelines for the duration of the executive order.

On Friday, the day the governor’s executive order went into effect, President Paul Pribbenow sent an email to all students, staff, and faculty, outlining the actions that Augsburg is taking to align with the public health requirements of the executive order.

The executive order made no changes to residence halls or campus dining services—Augsburg’s residence halls will remain open for resident students—and did not require that classes move online if they can be physically distanced, though some faculty may decide to move face-to-face courses online for the remainder of the semester. For classes that continue to be taught face-to-face, faculty will offer accommodations for students who need to stay away from campus, quarantine, or isolate, or who choose to remain home after leaving campus for the Thanksgiving break.

For Athletics, all in-person intercollegiate athletics—including training, practices, and scrimmages—will be paused through January 4. We recognize that this is a difficult change for our student-athletes, and hope that the action may reduce the overall transmission of the virus in our community and state heading into the spring semester.

While Augsburg is following the Scenario 4 guidelines in accordance with MDH recommendations, the actual on-campus transmission rate remains in the moderate range, although late-reporting cases for prior weeks could potentially move the rate into the high transmission range for those weeks.

With COVID-19 cases climbing across the state and in many regions of the U.S., the most important consideration for the Thanksgiving break is to limit the number of people you are with indoors for an extended period of time—especially without masks or distancing. This is why public health officials recommend people celebrate Thanksgiving only with their immediate household.  It also will be important, after returning from the Thanksgiving break, that we all remain diligent about wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and frequent handwashing/hand sanitization for the final weeks of the semester.

State Health Officials Urge Minnesotans To Limit Thanksgiving Gatherings to Their Immediate Household

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With COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota increasing 90% in the past 10 days, state health officials on Monday urged Minnesotans to reconsider their Thanksgiving plans and to have no gatherings beyond their immediate household (i.e., the people you are currently living with).

For students living on campus, Augsburg’s residence halls will be open for resident students who choose remain on campus over the Thanksgiving break.

For those planning to travel to visit family, the Minnesota Department of Health recommends you reduce your risk of carrying the virus to your family by interacting only with people in your immediate household or residential unit for 14 days before you go. (One of the reasons MDH is recommending limited travel and virtual gatherings for Thanksgiving is because there are fewer than 14 days remaining before the Thanksgiving holiday, so this mitigation strategy can be only partially achieved before the Thanksgiving break.)

Getting tested several days before you go is also recommended. Augsburg is offering another free, state-sponsored COVID-19 testing event on Wednesday, November 18, from noon to 6 p.m. in Hoversten Chapel. Test results are typically delivered within two to three days.

For more additional guidance about how to make Thanksgiving safer, see the recommendations on the Center for Disease Control web site.

Augsburg’s on-campus student case rate continues to increase but, to date, remains in the moderate transmission range. We will continue to track the on-campus case rate and communicate if the rate reaches 3%, which indicates a move to the Scenario 3 Actions outlined in the Minnesota Department of Health transmission levels recommendations. In the high transmission scenario (Scenario 3), some courses (particularly those where physical distancing cannot be maintained), but not all courses, may move to virtual modalities for a time.

It is also possible that state health officials may initiate additional, more restrictive recommendations given the extremely high case and hospitalization rates across the state. In that case, Augsburg will, of course, adjust its operations in alignment with the additional recommendations. The Minnesota Department of Health hosts a weekly call with institutions of higher education on Wednesday afternoons, which is where we would expect to learn whether additional recommendations are being considered for colleges and universities.

Minnesota Governor Encourages College Students To Get Tested for COVID-19 Before Thanksgiving

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Earlier this week, Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz announced the addition of more than a dozen new COVID-19 testing locations across the state over the next two weeks. One of the locations is Augsburg’s Minneapolis campus, which will offer free saliva testing this week and next week:

  • Wednesday, November 11 at 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 18 from noon – 6 p.m.

See A-mail for more information about on-campus testing.

All of the new statewide testing sites offer free testing, and will not require insurance.

Testing is available to anyone who wants to be tested. Students, staff, and faculty are welcome to get a test whether you have symptoms or not.

State public health officials have expanded testing availability in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday because they are especially concerned about people in the 18-35 age range. This is the group that is driving transmission rates to record highs in the state, often because many people in this age range have no symptoms and have no way of knowing they are potentially infectious to others. So, to protect family and friends, it is important for traditional college-age students to get tested in order to determine whether they are an asymptomatic carrier before heading home for Thanksgiving.

Test results are expected to be provided within a few days after testing.

  • If you have no symptoms, you do not need to quarantine while waiting for your test results.
  • If your test is positive, you will be asked to isolate for 10 days until your symptoms are better and you are no longer infectious.
  • If your test is negative, it means that you probably were not infected at the time of the test. You should continue to take precautions against COVID-19 to reduce the chances that you are exposed to someone with the virus. If you were in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, you need to stay home for 14 days after your last contact with that person, even if your test result is negative. This is to avoid exposing others if your test result was a false negative. If you develop symptoms after your negative test result, you will need to get tested again.

This past week, Augsburg’s on-campus case rate again moved up to the moderate transmission range, and we continue to receive reports of positive COVID-19 cases and exposures to people with COVID-19. Augsburg already is largely operating according to Minnesota Department of Health recommendations for moderate transmission levels (“Scenario 2”). We continue to monitor the on-campus case rates to determine whether a move to Scenario 3 (high transmission level operations) will be needed.

In the meantime, the best protection for yourself as well as your friends and family is to avoid close contact by wearing masks and maintaining 6 feet of distance when gathering with others.

Social Gatherings Drive COVID-19 Transmission Rates to Record Levels in Minnesota

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Current Status

COVID-19 transmission rates in Hennepin and Ramsey county have moved into the high (orange) range of 30 or more cases/10,000 over 14 days. The growth of cases is not just a regional issue: Recent Minnesota Department of Health numbers show outbreaks across the state and a record-high daily case rate this week.

The 14-day on-campus case rate at Augsburg has remained fairly stable at between 10 and 15 cases throughout the month of October. (Note: the October 31 COVID-19 Dashboard reported eight on-campus student cases for the 14 days ending October 31, but two additional cases were confirmed after the dashboard was published.) We also have already seen a cluster of confirmed cases resulting from social gatherings over the Halloween weekend.

Recommended Action

The low level of transmission among the campus community will be a challenge to maintain given the high levels of positivity in the general population. According to State of Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, what’s driving the high rate of community spread in Minnesota are not large crowds and events but small social gatherings — a happy hour, a brunch, or a few friends just hanging out without masks and social distancing.

This high virus transmission scenario is important to keep in mind as you plan for the upcoming Thanksgiving break. If you are traveling to other areas of the state or country, it might be useful to look up the case rate for your destination location and take appropriate precautions. The 91-divoc data visualization tool provides 7-day case rates per 100,000 population by county across the United States.

Of course, the more your plans allow for wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, the more you will reduce your risk of transmitting or getting COVID-19. The Minnesota Department of Health has provided guidelines to help plan for a safe Thanksgiving holiday.

Public Health Officials Urge Safety in Planning Holiday Celebrations As COVID-19 Cases Rise

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Current Status

Augsburg has been able to keep its 14-day on-campus case rate below 1% for the past several weeks. At the same time, however, we are seeing a noticeable increase in reports of positive COVID-19 tests among students who live off campus and have only online classes.

With the number of COVID-19 cases climbing in the region and across the nation, public health officials are underscoring the importance of planning for safe activities during the upcoming holidays. (See the October 24 COVID-19 Dashboard for additional Augsburg and local-area metrics.)

Recommended Action

The Minnesota Department of Health has published safe holiday guidelines for Halloween, Día de los Muertos, and Thanksgiving.

Below are the top six Halloween recommendations for college and university students:

  • Incorporate a mask into your costume!
  • Dress up warm and stay outside.
  • Avoid gatherings of 5 or more.
  • Get dressed up but stick with a small group or show off your costume over a Zoom party.
  • Don’t go to bars or parties where there are large crowds. If you go to a bar, go to one that follows social distancing.
  • Be smart and safe now so that you don’t take COVID-19 to your families at Thanksgiving.

 

Three jack-o-lanterns with the words "safe," "less safe" and "unsafe"
Click the image above to access an easy-to-read PDF infographic from the de Beaumont Foundation illustrating Halloween safety recommendations from the Center for Disease Control.