First Weekly Campus Health Update for Spring

 

Dear Students, Colleagues and Families,

Welcome back to the spring semester at Wooster!  It is exciting to be starting up again, and to have begun the term with our Martin Luther King Day programs.  This spring we will be continuing to write a weekly public health update on Tuesdays, reflecting the COVID – testing results of the prior week as well as other current local public health information.   Today’s update will be a bit longer, as it’s the first of our term and we have some new approaches to share.  

This semester we are increasing our COVID testing, both before the semester starts and during the term.   All students, staff and faculty who will be on campus this semester have tested in advance.  During the semester we will test students weekly, as they live in congregate housing, and test employees regularly, with a frequency that depends on how much they interact with others at work.   Last week we completed the pre-semester testing for over 1300 individuals - employees working on campus and students who planned to move in this past weekend.  811 students with negative tests have moved in.   Six students had positive pre-arrival tests.  They are isolating at home and will come to campus after that 14-day period is complete.   Six employees had positive tests. Contact-tracing has been completed for those individuals, and they are isolating as well.  The total positivity rate for our testing last week was just under 1%.   There are no students on campus in isolation or quarantine.  An additional group of about 500 students will move in this coming weekend.  Testing results will continue to be posted to our dashboard, which will update each Tuesday evening. 

Locally, the public health situation is steady.  Local medical and hospital facilities have ample capacity.  They report only about a dozen COVID hospital admissions over the past month, and case counts throughout our area are gradually decreasing, with current rates similar to those in mid-November.

In planning for spring, we have carefully studied the fall experiences here at Wooster as well as at other colleges and universities around the country.  Here are the most important things we learned.

Most frequent places where transmission happens:

  • Eating together in small spaces (eg. dorm rooms, break rooms, cars)
  • Small, indoor social gatherings (5-25 people) in residence halls or homes.

What works:

  • In-person classes, labs, musical and athletic practices can take place safely without transmission.   We have not seen transmission from students to employees, or employees to students.
  • Frequent testing and contact tracing, isolation, quarantine work to prevent spread when COVID cases arise.
  • Many colleges have been able to operate safely in person even when spread in the larger community is high, but this works best when student interaction off-campus is limited.
  • Connection and engagement is crucial, and is needed to address the isolation that many are experiencing.

Based on that learning, input from students and employees about what would be helpful to them, and new public health guidance, we have made changes and new investments to help improve safety and well-being for everyone.  A central component of this strategy has been to increase COVID-testing in order to be able to safely support more student engagement from the beginning of the term.  Here are the most important changes for the spring term. 

  • More in-person student activity and opportunities for connection from the beginning of the term.
  • Increased COVID testing before and during the semester.
  • Wastewater COVID - testing from large dorms 
  • Improved symptom-monitoring app (will roll out next week.)
  • Provide a dorm to better support students in isolation/quarantine on campus.
  • Larger staff teams for additional contact-tracing, testing and support of students in quarantine and isolation.
  • More specific travel limitations and visitor limitations on residential spaces, so that students are clear on the expectations.
  • Increased ease of information access. Current information on campus operations and rules will always be available all in one place, on the main page of the 2020-2021 guide, here.  

Of course, these actions are in addition to required masks and social distancing, and optimizing ventilation systems, which are the three most important factors in preventing airborne transmission.

As we enter a semester with high COVID prevalence around the world, as well as new variants of the virus which appear to be transmitted more easily, it is more critical than ever that everyone in the campus community follows all of our public health requirements both on and off campus.  We know that the campus community is committed to a safe spring semester, and we will also be holding everyone to a high standard in following the Community of Care agreement.   We are confident that, together, we will create a good Wooster spring term for all. 

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to wooster-covid-19@wooster.edu .  We look forward to the longer days and to all that the family of Scots will make happen this spring. 

Sincerely,

Sarah Bolton