Dear Macalester Community,

We hope you have had an opportunity to rest over the winter break, and we appreciate the precautions you continue to take in order to protect the health and wellbeing of our community. We recognize the value of in-person living and learning interactions. We remain committed to an on-campus experience, while continuing to identify and implement practices that help keep each other safer.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to create new challenges and to introduce uncertainty as we look towards the spring semester. Although layered public health measures help to slow the spread of the omicron variant, we expect a higher number of COVID-19 cases on campus this spring. None of us has a crystal ball and we are mindful that the many dimensions of uncertainty create varying levels of stress for each individual and household. While we want to avoid adding to worries, we also want to acknowledge that the timing and rates of COVID cases may disrupt plans for courses, labs, training, and events in the coming weeks.

As promised, we provide below updated information about our plans for the start of the spring semester.

Prior to arriving on-campus: All students should take a PCR-based COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to arriving on campus and limit the number of close contacts after providing a sample for testing. (Exception: If you have received a positive COVID-19 test result in the past 90 days, you would not be expected to get a PCR-based test unless you have symptoms.) If the pre-departure test comes back positive, please share this information with contacttracing@macalester.edu. If the pre-departure test is positive, you should isolate for 10 days prior to traveling.

Quiet Period: In an effort to prioritize in-person living and learning, we will observe COVID-specific precautions during a Quiet Period that begins today and lasts at least through February 1. We will send an update no later than January 28, 2022, that reflects our expectations at that time.

COVID-19 vaccine booster:

Return-to-campus (RTC) testing for students: Unless a student has tested positive for COVID-19 in the 90 days prior to January 18, they must participate in return-to-campus testing. If you have had a COVID-positive test result since October 20, 2021, complete this form.

Students will use the VAULT saliva-based PCR tests that are administered under Zoom supervision for this round of testing. Please note this set of important factors about the testing process:

  • Students arriving through January 17 can pick up a test kit from the second floor of the campus center daily during the hours of 9-11 am, 12-2 pm, and 3-5 pm.

  • All students arriving on January 18 and 19 should pick up a test kit the day they arrive from the second floor of the campus center between 9 am and 4 pm.

  • You must bring your student ID to pick up a test kit.

  • Prior to opening the test kit, you must join a Zoom call with a VAULT representative; please follow the instructions carefully.

  • ** DO NOT eat or drink anything for 30 minutes prior to starting the testing process.

  • The final step is to deliver the sealed tube with your sample to the RTC Testing DROPBOX. The DROPBOX is located in the campus center by the Public Safety window. Samples are brought to the lab by courier each day at 3:30 pm.

Employees are strongly encouraged to make use of the free options for testing provided by the state of Minnesota.

Masking: Masks are expected to be worn in all public indoor spaces. We strongly recommend the use of N95, KN95, or K94 masks/respirators. These masks provide superior protection compared to cloth masks. They should be worn for a maximum of one week and discarded if soiled or damaged. The college will issue a supply of four KN95 masks to each student and employee with details about distribution to follow during the week of January 17. After this initial distribution, individuals will be expected to secure their own supply, though the college will maintain a small stock for those experiencing extreme financial hardship. Please note that there are many counterfeit N95 or KN95 masks being sold and tips about identifying non-approved sources can be found on the CDC website.

Classroom instruction, in-person gatherings, and dining options

  • In order to allow time to process return-to-campus COVID tests, on January 20 (Thursday) and 21 (Friday):

    • Classes will be held remotely and

    • Dining in Cafe Mac will be grab-and-go from the buffet lines

  • During the remainder of the Quiet Period (at least through February 1), dining in Cafe Mac will be limited to current students with a meal plan and will feature a number of grab-and-go options to decrease density in the campus center.

  • Similar to the fall semester, the college does not plan to offer fully remote instruction. In rare instances the college will work with individual students to coordinate accommodations. Contact Dr. Ann Minnick (aminnick@macalester.edu) with specific questions.

  • We encourage faculty and other meeting organizers to take attendance whenever feasible. In the fall semester, we learned that faculty or meeting organizers who had assigned seating and/or who took attendance aided in identifying those who might have been within 6 feet of a COVID-positive individual for more than 15 minutes.

  • During the quiet period, all meetings, gatherings, and programs should be held remotely if possible in order to increase accessibility and be least disrupted by the ever-changing pandemic. We want to prioritize in-person classroom interactions, as well as the safety of those who cannot perform their work remotely.

  • Non-Macalester visitors to campus are strongly discouraged from attending classes, gatherings, or in-person events during the quiet period. We recognize that a small number of faculty and staff search-related campus visits have been scheduled and these visits will be allowed to proceed. Similarly, campus tours will be allowed to continue with participants wearing upgraded masks. Additional guidance regarding COVID-aware events and gatherings will be provided towards the end of the quiet period.

  • We encourage students to eat with the same set of individuals for meals.

  • The rental of college spaces by outside groups will continue to be limited during the quiet period. We will continue our policy of no “plus ones” in the library or Leonard Center during this time.

  • Athletic teams will continue to practice and compete following MIAC and NCAA protocols. During the Quiet Period, a modified set of spectator guidelines that limit the number of attendees will be in place.

Socializing: An effective mitigation strategy is to limit close social interactions (i.e. eating, hanging out without masks) to the same small (i.e. 4-6) group of individuals. Coronavirus spread in our community has so far been associated with individual social interactions, not structured activities. Avoid gatherings off-campus where vaccination status of other attendees is unknown and/or masking is optional. Wear a well-fitting mask in public indoor spaces, including common areas inside residence halls and the campus center when not actively eating or drinking.

Stay away from others when you have symptoms: Stay home when ill and get tested. Omicron-related symptoms overlap with those of a cold: sore throat, runny nose, body aches, etc. The use of antigen tests that detect viral proteins provides efficient and effective means to identify COVID-19 infections. A feature of these antigen tests is that they require a higher viral load for a positive result. If an antigen test turns out negative and you have symptoms, it is best to minimize interactions with others and obtain an additional test 24-48 hours later. If infected with coronavirus, the additional time could allow viral accumulation to reach reliably detectable levels.

Symptomatic or close contact testing: COVID-19 testing for students with symptoms or who are considered close contacts of a positive case will be available in the Wellness Lounge (best accessed from the south end of the Leonard Center). Testing will be available from 11 am – 1:30 pm Monday through Friday and 11-12:30 on Saturday and Sunday.

Staff and faculty should continue to seek testing through their healthcare provider or through free resources provided by the state of MN. On-going surveillance testing provides limited utility given the short incubation period and high transmission rates of the omicron variant. Instead, we urge those with symptoms to participate in symptomatic testing.

Isolation and Quarantine: The college intends to follow the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) guidance on isolation and quarantine procedures for close contacts of a positive case who have not received a booster dose. We have been told that in the next week, CDC and MDH will provide isolation and quarantine guidance that is specific for institutions of higher education. We will share updates as we have them. At present, MDH has recommended that institutions of higher education continue to follow a 10-day isolation period.

We anticipate the opening weeks of the spring semester will be among the most challenging from a COVID-19 mitigation perspective. The omicron variant is driving unprecedented increases in case counts. We should all consider the possibility that during rolling periods of time this semester, groups of students, staff, and faculty will be unavailable, and we encourage plans to incorporate flexibility and remote options.

We close with the now familiar plea to extend patience and grace with one another in the coming weeks; a request made more poignant in the current moment. We remain grateful to be part of a community that demonstrates such ideals with action.

As always, please feel free to direct questions to healthresponse@macalester.edu.

Wishing you well.

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

Published: Jan. 5, 2022