COVID-19 Status Blog

All Minnesotans Age 16 and Older Eligible for COVID-19 Vaccination as of March 30

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On Friday, March 26, Gov. Tim Walz announced that all Minnesotans age 16 or older will be eligible to make vaccination appointments as of March 30.

Available vaccination appointments are published on the State of Minnesota’s vaccination finder web site.

There is also a grassroots app that collects info on all the vax appointments available so that you don’t have to go to each vaccination venue’s site individually:   https://www.vaccinespotter.org/MN/ .

Vaccination Timelines and Clinical Trial Results

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Vaccination Timelines

The best resource for information about vaccination timelines in Minnesota is the Minnesota COVID-19 Vaccine Connector, a tool where you sign up to be alerted when you are eligible to receive a vaccine. The tool then will connect you to resources to schedule a vaccine appointment.

Health officials say that you should take the first opportunity you have to get a vaccine because each of the vaccines significantly reduces hospitalizations and deaths.

The state has published a timeline for vaccination by factors such as age, job type, and health status. The Vaccine Connector site proclaims that, “[b]y this summer, every Minnesotan who wants a shot will be able to get one!”

For now, according to state officials, “the goal for the first, limited doses of COVID-19 vaccine is to immunize for impact – meaning [that vaccines are offered] to those at highest risk of getting COVID-19 and those most at risk of severe disease and complications if they get COVID-19.”

The groups that the state prioritized for vaccination through the first week of March included healthcare workers, people 65 years and older, and K-12 teachers and childcare workers. The State of Minnesota prioritized K-12 separately from higher education, stating that  because not all students can successfully social distance or maintain masks, childcare staff and K-12 educators are at higher risk.  Additionally, children going back to childcare and school is needed in order for parents to return back to work.

For more detailed information, visit the Minnesota Department of Health’s About COVID-19 Vaccine page. This page includes considerations for pregnant people, people who are breastfeeding, and immunocompromised people. It also includes information about vaccine safety and what to do after getting vaccinated.

Vaccine Efficacy

Health officials say that you should take the first opportunity you have to get a vaccine because each of the vaccines significantly reduce hospitalizations and deaths.

You may have heard different efficacy rates reported for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines compared with the more recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Efficacy is a measure of how the vaccine performed during clinical trials and is not a predictor of effectiveness in the general population.

Example: Among the 28,207 people in the Moderna test, 225 in the placebo group contracted COVID-19, while 11 in the vaccine group got the virus. If the vaccine had no effect, we would have expected 225 people to get the virus in each group, but the vaccine group had 214 fewer cases. Efficacy is calculated as the reduction in cases among the vaccine group as a percent of the total cases in the placebo group:  214/225 = 95%. In other words, in this test population, the vaccine was associated with 95% fewer cases in the vaccine group relative to the placebo group.  See more about the Moderna vaccine on the CDC web site.

Efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for reducing cases was 74% in U.S. clinical trials, and was 100% for reducing hospitalizations after 28 days relative to the placebo group. As noted above, all three vaccines approved for use in the United States have very strong efficacy rates relative to severe cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations, and death.

 

Moderate Transmission Rate On Campus, Statewide Rates Continue to Decline

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Augsburg’s on-campus student case rate moved into the moderate range (1% to 3% of the on-campus student population) during the week of February 9 – 13.

Most of the recent positive cases were identified through the Athletics Department’s surveillance testing program, which tests all active student-athletes and Athletics staff three times per week.  As a result of the recent test results, a significant number of student-athletes are following the isolation and quarantine protocols recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health, which also has practice and competition schedules for a number of teams.

We are grateful to Augsburg’s Athletics trainers, coaches, and leadership for the quick response in following up with each of the individuals who tested positive or were in close contact with someone who tested positive in order to help contain the risk of additional exposure or transmission.

Meanwhile, statewide metrics in Minnesota remain encouraging. Cases and test positivity rates continued to decline slightly in the first half of February, and vaccine supplies are beginning to increase.

Low Transmission Rate On Campus and Statewide

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Augsburg’s on-campus transmission rate has returned to a low level (less than 1% of the on-campus student population over 14 days). See Augsburg’s January 30 COVID-19 Dashboard for more detail.

Statewide trends are also encouraging. On January 31, the number of daily cases reported in Minnesota fell below 1,000 for the first time since September. Importantly, the decline in cases is not driven by lower levels of testing. Minnesota’s test positively rate is currently 3.3%, the lowest since late June and early July last summer. See the latest report from MPR’s David Montgomery for these and other recent data from Minnesota’s COVID-19 public health reports.

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.