Dear Macalester Community,

This message contains several reminders and updates based on recent changes in guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We continue to adjust plans for the spring semester to maximize community wellbeing.

During the past two weeks, more than 200 students have moved back into residence halls and started to participate in on campus activities. Return-to-campus testing of those who have not tested positive in the last 90 days has yielded 7 COVID-19 cases from the 221 tests completed (3.2% test positivity). In addition, since the start of the year, 70 other students and 20 employees have self-reported a positive COVID-19 test result. Some of these students are away from the Twin Cities and others have already returned. We will resume updating the COVID-19 dashboard next week. If you receive a positive COVID-19 test result, please share this information in an email to contacttracing@macalester.edu

Return-to-campus testing: Students are required to participate in return-to-campus testing unless they have had a COVID-positive test result in the last 90 days, in which case they should complete this form. Please do not delay arrival because of remote learning as the purpose of this round of testing is to establish a campus baseline as we start the semester. Details about test pick-up and late arrivals can be found on our FAQ page.

Isolation, Contact Tracing, and Quarantine: On January 12, MDH recommended that institutions of higher education follow the most recent CDC isolation and quarantine guidelines for those who test positive for COVID-19 or who have been a close contact (i.e. within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more, regardless of masks) of a COVID-positive individual. We will be following the MDH recommendation.

Isolation (for those who test positive):

The isolation guidelines apply regardless of previous infection, vaccination or booster status, and the presence or absence of symptoms. 

Students or employees who receive a positive COVID-19 test result must stay home/in isolation for at least 5 full days, followed by wearing a high-quality mask through day 10 (day 0 is the start of symptoms or providing a sample for the test). 

  • An individual may end isolation after 5 days if they have not had any symptoms or if they are fever-free for 24 hours and symptoms are clearly improving. 
  • Our community of students, staff, faculty, and contract workers depend on your honest assessment of the symptoms you may have and whether they are clearly improving.
  • If symptoms have not resolved, continue to remain in isolation.
  • Until day 10 of the isolation period, students with meal plans should use grab-and-go dining options.

The COVID case management (CCM) team will provide students who test positive with support. Residential students will be moved to on-campus isolation housing and the CCM team will coordinate meals, mail, etc. while in isolation. As we begin the term, those in single rooms or in instances where both roommates in a double test positive will be asked to isolate in place. The CCM team will coordinate with residential life the assignment of isolation bathrooms and will provide delivery of meals. 

Contact tracing: The Macalester contact tracing team continues to collaborate with the Minnesota Department of Health and will follow up with individuals who test positive. COVID-positive individuals will be asked to complete a contact tracing form that gathers information the college must provide to the state and that ensures close contacts have been notified. Any close contacts should adhere to the following guidelines for quarantine based on their vaccination status.

Quarantine (for those who have been close contacts):

  • If you are up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccination (i.e. received vaccine dose(s) and/or booster dose in the timeframe recommended by CDC) or had a confirmed COVID-19 case in the last 90 days, you do not need to stay home/quarantine. You should get a test at least 5 days after you last had close contact with a positive individual. Testing sooner than 5 days doesn’t allow enough time for viral loads, if you are infected, to reach reliably detectable levels. It is preferable, particularly if you do not have symptoms, to use a PCR-based test such as the free “at home” test kit from MDH.  
  • If you are not up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations, you must stay home and quarantine for at least 5 days and get tested at least 5 days after your last close contact. If you develop symptoms, get tested and continue to wear a high-quality mask around others through day 10. 

At-home test kits: We recommend that you order a free “at home” test kit from MDH. Having one of these available if you develop symptoms would be helpful, especially during the first weeks of the semester when it is likely that there will be high demand for testing. Our FAQ page includes additional instructions for residential students ordering a test kit.

Masks: Since we shared our recommendation to use N95, KN95, or KF94 masks/respirators, a couple of students have shared that articles such as these from Wirecutter and New York Magazine have been helpful in identifying sources for these more protective masks. 

Production and shipping delays created by staffing issues have impacted our receipt of masks ordered by the college. We are adjusting and will distribute masks in two waves: 

  • January 18-21: A single KN95 mask will be available for each student, staff, or faculty member. Distribution will occur on the second floor of the campus center from 9 am – 4 pm. 
  • January 24-28: A set of three masks will be available for pickup from the same location. Any adjustments to this plan will be shared in the Mac Daily. 

Required vaccine booster documentation: Use this form to provide documentation of your COVID-19 booster dose, to communicate that you are in the waiting period for a booster, or to indicate that you have an exemption. The CDC now recommends that booster doses should be given 5 months (previously 6 months) following the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. See our FAQ for additional information.

Local establishments requiring proof of vaccination: Restaurants and bars in St. Paul and Minneapolis will begin requiring proof of vaccination or proof of a recent negative PCR test for entry starting as early as next week. We encourage members of our community to carry vaccine cards with them and/or have a photo of their vaccine card on their phone.

Remote learning and meeting: We continue to plan for remote learning during the first two days of classes (January 20 and 21) with the intent to resume in-person on January 24. This approach provides time for return-to-campus test results to be received. We have yet to start a semester with the omicron variant as the dominant strain of coronavirus. While the college classroom where masks are worn has been a lower risk environment for transmission, remote learning and gathering introduces another layer of mitigation by reducing the density of individuals on campus as we reassemble. Until the end of the Quiet Period (February 1) all student organization activities, group gatherings, and employee meetings should be held remotely.

Employee accommodations: Senior staff acknowledges the tension between prioritizing in-person instruction and student support with the stress that employees are experiencing while caring for loved ones at home. The recent announcements that some local school districts are switching to remote instruction for periods of time are a cause for concern. With an understanding that we remain committed to providing high quality in-person services for our students, staff employees whose jobs can be done remotely are encouraged to do so and should consult with their supervisors to make remote work arrangements as appropriate during this time. 

Senior staff reminds benefits-eligible staff members (including new hires) about the additional 10 days of paid sick leave for 2021-22 (prorated per FTE) to be used either in the case of their own positive COVID-19 diagnosis or to care for family members who are ill or are quarantined at home. This extra sick leave also can be used to help fill in gaps if personnel are unable to work full days. We also remind faculty that they have the option to shift classes to a remote format temporarily. Such changes should be communicated to the department chair.

Emotional wellbeing and mental health: We recognize the range of individual circumstances, COVID-19 risk analyses, and contexts that influence how we feel and are impacted by the current situation. Such factors have created unprecedented pressure on students and employees. We encourage practices that avoid or overcome isolation when possible. In addition to drawing strength from our communal response, the college continues to offer counseling and other emotional support to students through the Hamre Center and programming organized by the Department of Multicultural Life, the Annan Institute for Global Citizenship, the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement, and student organizations. Employees are reminded of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and other resources through Employment Services. 

Leonard Center and outdoor track:

  • The common spaces in the Leonard Center (Hultquist Lounge, atrium) remain open.
  • The fitness center and activity areas (fieldhouse, studios, gym) will be closed January 18-23. In-season winter sports teams who have participated in testing will continue to practice and compete during this time.
  • While athletic competitions will be permitted, no in-person spectators will be allowed until at least February 1. Games and meets will be livestreamed for remote viewing.
  • The fitness center and activity areas will be open for limited use January 24 through February 1. During this time equipment will be available for reservation through forms that will be advertised in the Mac Daily.
  • Weather dependent, the track and a portion of the turf field will be cleared for outdoor recreational use.

We remain inspired by the kindness, patience, compassion, and flexibility members of our community continue to exhibit, despite the increased pressures created by the latest phase of this pandemic. Thank you for your cooperation as we navigate this together.

We will continue to update the COVID-19 website. If you have questions, please send them to healthresponse@macalester.edu.

Paul Overvoorde, PhD, Director of COVID Operations
Steph Walters, MD, MPH, Medical Director of the Hamre Center

Published: Jan. 14, 2022