August 19, 2020: Student Update on Campus Opening

Dear students,

Welcome back! We hope this letter finds you well and excited to begin a new school year.

In anticipation of any questions you may have before arriving on campus, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the University of St. Thomas want to provide you with some information around expectations of students this fall and how we plan to manage, track and report cases on campus. While we will do all we can to help minimize cases, we can’t expect campus to be COVID-19-free with a community of our size. Please familiarize yourself with the details in this letter, and let us know if you have questions; we’ll be continually working to get you the information you need.

Navigate campus as you would navigate the larger community
Because we have community spread of COVID-19 (locally, in Minnesota and nationally), public health experts tell us we need to navigate the world as if coronavirus is everywhere, and anyone we encounter could be a carrier. That means taking all health and safety protocols seriously: frequent hand-washing, social distancing, masking, respiratory etiquette, wiping down surfaces you touch and staying home if you’re sick. As we monitor other colleges and universities that have already opened, some have had to dial back their plans, including going fully on-line. If you follow these protocols, you will reduce your risk, and you will help ensure that we can keep campus open this fall.

Distancing before you get to campus
Before you get to campus, all students should practice a quarantine for two weeks. During this time:
  • Do not visit bars, house parties or other social gatherings. If you need to see that one special friend before they leave, try to meet outside, wear a mask and practice social distancing.
  • This is important not only to minimize students being infected with COVID-19 before returning to campus, but it’s also a way to get used to the new normal you will experience once back on campus.
Any student who has COVID-19 symptoms when they are scheduled to travel to campus should stay home and contact the Center for Well-Being.

Distancing while you are on campus
  • Follow all of the expectations outlined in the Common Good Commitment and our Campus Preparedness Plan.
  • Socially distance 6 feet at all times, even when wearing a mask.
  • Avoid social settings with groups of people. This includes bars and house parties.
Surveillance testing
Some universities are planning widespread testing (surveillance testing) of community members; MDH advises against this. Surveillance testing requires significant use of limited resources and raises equity, ethics and capacity concerns among public health officials. In addition, surveillance testing gives a snapshot of a situation, which may be different by the time results are returned. We will test asymptomatic individuals only if we determine certain groups could have a higher exposure risk; this could include, for example, residence hall floors or work spaces with related cases.

Testing and timing
Anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home. This is one of the most important things you can do to protect our community. If you start feeling sick, go home as soon as possible, consult with the Center for Well-Being or your health care provider, and, if advised, get tested. Please don’t tough it out!

As you likely know, there is a lag between getting tested and getting test results. The Center for Well-Being is prioritizing student COVID-19 testing, and test results are currently being turned around within 72 hours. Test results through a private provider may take longer. It’s important to stay in quarantine until your test results come back, even if you start feeling better.

The lag time means that – in the case of a positive result – by the time our contact tracing team starts its work and those who have had close contact are notified, the person who has tested positive is already quarantined, and members of the campus community are not at further risk of exposure. The purpose of contact tracing is to avoid – as much as possible – further spread. Our contact tracers will be focusing on students who are spending time on campus. Students who are learning remotely will not be part of our contact tracing efforts but will be included in MDH contact tracing efforts.

Answer the call Quarantine and isolation
Quarantine and isolation are two different things, and the distinction is important. Quarantine is for individuals who are feeling sick (but do not have a positive test result) or who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Roommates of a student who tests positive should quarantine in place until they have talked to a contact tracer. Isolation is for individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 (tested positive). More details on these two terms are available in the Campus Preparedness Plan. Students will be asked to return home to quarantine or isolate. If a student is not able to return home, they should discuss their situation with a campus contact tracer. We have quarantine and isolation space available for resident students who have been contact traced because of a confirmed exposure and who are not able to return home. Students who live off campus and are not able to return home should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for household isolation/quarantine.

Notifications and reporting
To help keep the community updated about the impact of COVID-19 on campus, the university will provide a weekly report of campus cases starting Sept. 14 on OneStThomas. The report will include the total reported cases for the prior week, whether the reported cases involve students or faculty/staff, and on which campus the impacted individual primarily works or learns. When three (3) or more campus cases are determined to be connected or presumptively connected (e.g., connected in time and building location) such information will be noted in the weekly report. Other interpretive comments may also be included. St. Thomas will also consult with MDH about campus cases and possible surges. St. Thomas may send a notification to part or all of the campus community if MDH advises that there are public health considerations that warrant a timely notification to community members.

As a reminder, all community members are expected to self-report. Students should self-report - available on the COVID-19 OneStThomas site for students

A constantly evolving situation
Beginning in the earliest days of responding to COVID-19 – way back in January 2020 – we learned things can change incredibly quickly, and we need to engage in a process of continual analysis. Please be assured we are looking at the situation daily and will make adjustments as needed.

Our staff and faculty are working hard to prepare a comprehensive educational experience both in and outside of the classroom. We look forward to your return and the start of a new academic year!


Karen M. Lange, Ed.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs
Co-chair, Campus Preparedness Plan

Wendy N. Wyatt, Ph.D.
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
Co-chair, Campus Preparedness Plan