COVID-19 Status Blog

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.

On-Campus Case Rate Stabilizes Due to Effective Contact Tracing, Isolation, and Quarantine

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Current Status

Augsburg’s 14-day on-campus student case rate has stabilized over the past two weeks after climbing into the moderate transmission range in late September. There are still a number of individuals in quarantine and waiting for test results, so the on-campus case rate for last week may still increase from what was reported on the October 17 COVID-19 Dashboard.

The transmission level in Hennepin and Ramsey counties is as high as it has been all fall, so ongoing vigilance to reduce the risk of transferring the virus remains important.

Recommended Action

Wearing masks and maintaining physical distance still remain the best ways to prevent catching — or spreading — COVID-19.

It is also really helpful if everyone is mindful of each person they are in close contact with (within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes). If you test positive, those are the people the Response Team will need to contact in order to support them as they monitor for symptoms, get a COVID-19 test, and remain quarantined so that they don’t spread the virus further. This includes anyone you sit near or hang out with, especially without masks, for more than a brief time period.

We have observed a number of cases this fall where individuals have become symptomatic and tested positive during their last day or two of quarantine. As a result, it is important that everyone exposed to someone with the virus quarantine for a full 14 days after exposure, as required by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Most of the spread of COVID-19 — at Augsburg and across the state — happens when people have the virus but don’t yet have symptoms. So, keep in mind whenever you choose to be in close contact with others that, if anyone in the group subsequently gets symptoms and and tests positive, the result will be a 14-day quarantine for everyone else in proximity. Wearing masks and maintaining physical distance can obviate the need for the 14-day quarantine.

Actions To Reduce Close Contacts Temper Growth in On-Campus Transmission Levels

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Current Status

Although the rate of on-campus cases reported in the October 10 COVID-19 Dashboard shows a low transmission rate, we continue to see new confirmed COVID-19 cases resulting from close contact (no masks or distancing) with those who tested positive over the past several weeks. A number of positive cases were confirmed Monday, October 12, for the prior week, and there are several other individuals still waiting for their COVID-19 test results. So, Augsburg’s on-campus student case rate for last week will increase from what is currently reported on the Dashboard after those pending tests are finalized. 

In addition to ongoing isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine efforts, Augsburg took several other actions last week in response to the growing rate of on-campus transmission. In consultation with the Minnesota Department of Health, Augsburg paused activity in Athletics practices, reduced the size of indoor and outdoor events, and introduced additional measures such as seating assignments at events and activities to facilitate contact tracing in the event that it may be required.  

Recommended Action

Augsburg continues to meet with MDH to review the impact of our actions on the number of newly confirmed cases and monitor the on-campus transmission level. Please note that case rates in both Hennepin and Ramsey counties continue to increase as well. So, it remains important to be mindful of physical distancing and wearing face coverings in order to protect yourself and others, and to help minimize the spread of the virus on campus.

Case Rate Among On-Campus Students Moves to Moderate Transmission Level

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Current Status

As of the end of last week, Augsburg had recorded 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among our on-campus student population for the 14-day period ending Saturday, October 3. This equates to 1.14% of the on-campus student population and moves Augsburg to the moderate transmission level.

One additional employee, who had already been in quarantine, also received a positive COVID-19 test for the previous week.

The majority of these cases—students and employees—will have completed their required isolation period by the end of the day Monday, October 5. The Response Team, in partnership with Athletics, Human Resources, and Residence Life staff, works to remain in regular communication with all students and employees in isolation in order to provide support and monitor their recovery.

Also, as noted last week, the Response Team works to make sure that everyone who had close contact (as defined by the Minnesota Department of Health) with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 remains in quarantine for 14 days. This is reflected in the second metric of the COVID-19 Dashboard, which shows that we continue to be able to identify the close contacts for each positive case even as the number of cases has grown.

As a result of this contact tracing work, there currently are a number of individuals in quarantine, and many of them are waiting for the results of their COVID-19 tests. It is possible that Augsburg’s on-campus student case rate may increase from what is currently reported if a number of those tests are positive.

Recommended Action

It’s important to underscore that we still have not seen transmission of the virus in scenarios where people were wearing masks and remained physically distant. The No. 1 action you can take to prevent ongoing spread of COVID-19 is to follow those two public health protocols.

In addition to reinforcing the importance of the required public health behaviors, Augsburg reaffirmed a number of actions last week designed to reduce close contacts. We need to sustain these efforts until we see the number of on-campus cases decline. It can take a couple of weeks to achieve a decline in the case rate if public health behaviors are followed (and longer if required behaviors are not followed), but the good news is that MDH has reported that such actions have been successful at other colleges and universities that have experienced a spike in cases this fall.

Finally, Augsburg has reported all isolation and quarantine cases to the Minnesota Department of Health, and we have a meeting today with MDH Epidemiologist Cynthia Kenyon, the lead contact for higher education for the coronavirus pandemic, to review Augsburg’s response to the current case rate and determine whether further action is recommended. If additional actions are required, we will communicate those via email or A-mail this week.

Eleven Confirmed On-Campus Student Cases in 14-Day Period

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Current Status

Over the past two weeks, 11 on-campus students tested positive for COVID-19 and are now in isolation. Nine of these cases are connected, resulting from transmission during situations where individuals were not wearing masks and adhering to physical distancing protocols.

In addition, one employee reported a positive COVID-19 test result last week.

The Augsburg Response Team talks with each person who tests positive to identify any other individuals on campus with whom they had contact (as defined by the Minnesota Department of Health) to ensure those individuals quarantine as directed by MDH. Faculty who have in-person classes with students who test positive are also contacted, and we are pleased to find that masks and physical distancing have been consistently followed in the classrooms. For resident students, all roommates are contacted and those who had exposure to someone with the virus are quarantined.

All isolation and quarantine cases are reported, as required, to the Minnesota Department of Health.

What Happens Now?

With 11 cases over 14 days, Augsburg remains in the low transmission level as defined by the Minnesota Department of Health. However, given the number of students in quarantine, it is possible we will move into the moderate (1%-3%) transmission range once all the test results are received.

In large part, Augsburg has already been operating under the MDH guidelines for moderate-level transmission, and we will move forward adhering to the following practices:

  • Public health protocols are required in public spaces across campus, including in classroom settings, study areas, work groups, events, and dining areas.
  • Faculty are encouraged to have students show their daily CampusClear symptom screening app results as a check-in at the beginning of each class to ensure that everyone in attendance is symptom free,  and to use assigned seating to facilitate contact tracing, should it be needed in the future.
  • Faculty should be prepared to accommodate students who cannot be in class due to quarantine or isolation.
  • Event size will remain limited to comply with MDH protocols for indoor and outdoor gatherings.
  • Buildings are not open to the public. Fob access is limited to students, staff, and faculty.
  • Departments should continue with remote work plans, where applicable, to reduce density on campus. This would also be an appropriate time for departments to consider modifications that would be implemented in the event that Augsburg moves to the “moderate” transmission level.
  • Residence Life implemented a no guest policy earlier this year and, this past Friday, extended it for two weeks.
  • Athletics will continue to convene in small pods, following mask and distancing requirements, and limiting teams to coach-supervised activities only.

It is important that we all remain vigilant over the next two weeksreducing activity, maintaining distance, and consistently wearing masksto minimize further spread of the virus. Thank you!