President Steve Bahls: Addressing frequently asked questions
Nov. 13, 2020
As we witness the number of COVID-19 cases increasing in the Quad Cities to their highest levels, most of us naturally are concerned about what this means for Augustana. I want to provide answers to some of the good questions I’ve been asked.
How does Augustana make decisions about what activities take place on campus?
We make our decisions in accordance with the principles for reopening and staying open established by the board of trustees earlier in the year. The most important principle is this:
The safety of students, employees and visitors is a primary consideration. We will be relying on public health information from the CDC, IDPH and RICPHD and recognized public health experts. We will not act out of fear. We will not make premature decisions before most of the facts are evident.
Recognizing the need for more specific guidance as the prevalence of COVID-19 changes, the college adopted alert levels based on guidance from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Once an alert level is determined, the alert level document guides our action.
We also discuss the proper alert levels and our actions within the alert level with local public health officials and national experts. This week we engaged two local health officials and two national experts to help us review our decision to operate under the high alert level and our actions within that level.
Surveillance testing at Augustana is an important factor in our decision-making.This is a distinctive feature of Augustana’s response – not all schools in our region have made this investment – and the results have informed us greatly. This week’s surveillance testing (297 tests) produced a positivity rate of one percent: three student positives and no employee positives.
What factors determine remote learning?
We will move to remote learning after Thanksgiving, in large part because of the dispersion of our community and the desire to limit the frequency of returns to campus.
Prior to Thanksgiving, we seek to maintain live instruction. Our contact tracing has not identified any cases of spread of the virus in the classroom, thanks to the stringent observance of our protocols. At the orange alert level, we can continue live classes with the many classroom protections already in place. If we move to the red level, we will suspend live classes.
Because we have seen some spread in athletic activities, we have suspended all athletic activities through Jan. 2.
Most Illinois colleges and universities are continuing with live classes, as have all but one of the schools in the CCIW. But each college is different. One local university, with a large commuter population and without the surveillance protocols we’ve employed, has shifted classes online while keeping its campus open.
School districts (K-12) have suspended classes in part because they don’t have the resources to do surveillance testing. School districts also face greater challenge in enforcing social distancing in their confined facilities and masking requirements among younger students. Our 115 acres are of tremendous benefit.
Is it certain that Augustana be able to continue live classes and limited student activities through Thanksgiving? No – it depends upon the alert levels described above and our consultations with public health officials. It is also possible that the governor could revoke the higher education exemption from limits on small group activities.
Will we have a live J-term?
I hope so, because Augustana believes in the value of live classes. But no final decision has been made. A final decision will be guided by our alert levels and public health officials and will ultimately be made by the board in mid- to late December when more information is available.
What guides our testing strategies?
As we’ve mentioned, surveillance testing has given us a significant advantage. Additionally, we are making arrangements to offer testing next Friday to those students and employees seeking a test. More information about testing will be coming from the dean of students.
As we’ve known for some time, a test is merely a snapshot in time: a negative result should never be construed as protection from coronavirus, while a positive result provides vital information in protecting those around us.
What about work from home?
As a residential liberal arts college, much of our work must be performed in person. That said, we anticipate more work from home starting Monday, and increasing after Thanksgiving. Those able to work remotely should speak with their supervisors about opportunities to do so. More information will be coming from Human Resources.
Thanks to all at Augustana for all you do to help us provide the best possible experience for our students in difficult times.