August 21, 2020: Update on Campus Re-opening

Dear St. Thomas students, faculty and staff,

Many of you are likely feeling anxiety over this week’s news about campuses across the country pivoting to online-only learning, wondering what it means for St. Thomas. While it has been widely reported that several high-profile institutions reversed course on their decisions to hold in-person classes due to spikes in confirmed COVID-19 cases, others have remained on course and continue to operate as planned.

Please know that campus leaders, including the University Action and Response Team (UART) and I, are paying careful attention to these events, and we are grateful for the opportunity to learn from others. Just this afternoon, the University of Minnesota announced its intention to delay planned move-in dates and teach online for at least the first two weeks of the semester.

While our hope is to continue with plans to welcome students on campus, we remain ready to pivot if necessary. We will continue to constantly evaluate the virus and our ability to respond to it, and will continue to seek guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health.

To be clear – we expect to have COVID-19 cases on campus this fall. With a community our size, it is unrealistic to think otherwise. Our goal is to keep the number of cases to a manageable level, so we can reduce the potential of exposure and virus spread. This can only happen, however, if we all take seriously our roles in creating a culture of care. Every member of our community is expected to follow all guidelines set forth in our Campus Preparedness Plan and the Common Good Commitment. If these guidelines (most notably, wearing a face covering, socially distancing and washing hands) are followed, we will improve our ability to keep this virus at a manageable level and remain open to in-person instruction.

Adhering to social distancing guidelines off campus is so important. Because of the potential for spread at large social gatherings, we will strictly enforce rules against hosting or attending large gatherings. We will use the student conduct process to take significant disciplinary action against violations of the Common Good Commitment or the Governor’s executive orders. This could include suspension of students who host large gatherings.

The School of Law will start classes on Monday, August 24, and currently we plan for the rest of the campus to begin classes on September 9. In the meantime, many of you have asked how the university will make decisions about changes to operations once we are open. The following metrics and considerations, along with consultation with the Minnesota Department of Health, will help us make decisions about when it might be necessary to “turn down our dial”:
  • The number of infections on campus – are the rates of campus cases and positive tests increasing rapidly over a two-week period compared to local/state averages?
  • Trends in linked cases – are we seeing increased evidence of community spread on campus?
  • The level of severity of campus cases – are our infected community members needing emergency room visits and hospitalization? Are our cases causing a strain on health care resources and putting our most vulnerable community members at risk?
  • Community data – what is happening in the community? Are cases increasing or decreasing? What trends are we seeing at other institutions?
  • Behavior – are our community members adhering to the preparedness plan?
  • State guidance – is the Minnesota Department of Health directing state higher education institutions to “power down” or directing another state-wide stay-at-home order?
You can find a full list of these factors (a email address is required to access).

Stay tuned for additional information next week on updates to our Campus Preparedness Plan. We will continue to send information as it is available. In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy.

Julie H. Sullivan