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Campus COVID-19 briefing Nov. 2, 2020

Augustana College leaders held an online campus briefing on Nov. 2, 2020, to update faculty, staff and parents about new COVID-19 restrictions in Illinois and the college response.

Following is a transcript of the briefing.

Keri Rursch, assistant vice president of communication and marketing

We are not taking questions through the Zoom today, but we do invite them. If you go to the main COVID-19 page online, you can Leave a comment or ask a question. You can ask your question there, and leave your email, and we’ll reply as quickly as possible. 

It is my honor to welcome president of the college, Steve Bahls.

President Steve Bahls

I’m abundantly grateful to our students and employees for their hard work to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 on this campus. 

I come to you from my office in Founders Hall on the Augustana campus and am pleased that we have successfully completed our second month of hard work to live responsibly with COVID-19. 

Students have been our superstars. They have followed our guidance, and that of state officials as well as the CDC. And to our list of superstars, let’s add the faculty and staff of Augustana College who have gone the extra mile to provide the best possible education for our students.

For those of you tuning in today, who don’t have the privilege of getting to campus often, you are probably not aware that you can’t walk the sidewalks of this beautiful campus without seeing EVERYONE in masks. What a sight it is on this spectacular fall day.

Students, you have masked up in a way that could be a model to communities across the this state and across the nation.

You changed your plans this fall, and you’ve kept your gatherings small. 

You’ve shown restraint. You understand social distancing. And we know you are using our hand sanitizer because we keep on refilling the bottles on campus.

For an update on numbers here on campus, I am turning things over to Dr. Wes Brooks, the Augustana College dean of students. 

And as I do, let me take a moment to acknowledge the hard work, strength and incredible fortitude as he and his team have led the college’s COVID-19 response and mitigation efforts. 

Dr. Wes Brooks

I’m going to share information with you today about surveillance testing and self-reporting here at Augustana. In my time talking to parents, students and employees, I know these numbers are important to you.
As we complete October’s surveillance testing: 
I can report that 2,766 tests have been administered with 17 total positives. 
Within our surveillance testing this means we’ve achieved less than a 1% positivity rate.
For last week, the week of Oct. 26, we had three positive tests among 356 tested, making last week’s positivity rate less than 1% as well.
In addition to what was discovered through surveillance testing last week, six students and five employees self-reported positive cases for a total of 11 this week. 
So as of today, after 10 weeks of surveillance testing and self-reports, the total number of positive cases on campus dating back to late August is 75. 
For a bit more detail, during this academic year, 61 of those cases were among students, and 14 were employee cases.
Less than 3% of the Augie community population has reported a positive test result this fall.
As I’ve said before, this is a fluid situation and our work continues to grow and change each week. There are new wrinkles and new requests. The change of the seasons creates new considerations that the Augustana Strong Task Force and others continue to assess, and we will continue to adhere to state and county health department guidance, work closely with county health departments and regional leaders, and follow CDC guidelines both proactively and in accordance to requirements.  
Every step Augustana College takes we see as a partnership. The most important partners in this effort are our students and employees. 
We need everyone to remain vigilant. This is not the time to let up.
Masking and physical distancing must remain priorities for our campus community.  
Keeping social pods and clusters small and very tight-knit continues to be important for mitigating possible spread from positive cases. 

Group gatherings must continue to be 10 or less in social settings. 

College-sponsored activities, such as OSL functions, will transition to group size no larger than 25 until further notice. 

And adhering to visitor restrictions in the residence halls is an essential part of our COVID response plan. 
Failure to comply with these expectations will result in referral to the student conduct process, which may include interim measures, such as interim separation from campus, interim suspension from participating in all on-campus activities, or other interim actions designed to reduce the likelihood of spreading COVID-19.   
By doing these things over the last 10-plus weeks, we’ve shown as a campus community we can co-exist with COVID. Continuing to respond to COVID-19 responsibly throughout November and beyond will continue to provide the Augustana community the best path forward.

I thank the Augustana Strong Task Force and others in the community who are working hard, and everyone for their continued personal and community efforts in dealing with this pandemic.  
All of our COVID efforts remain very important because as some of you may be aware, our region isn’t faring as well as we’d all hope. And to get the updates about the region, I’d like to introduce Kai Swanson. Kai has been the member of our senior leadership team keeping a pulse on the local and state data, guidance and changes. 
Kai Swanson
Thank you, Dr. Brooks. I appreciate the introduction and the opportunity to share the most recent information from the state. 
Governor Pritzker yesterday increased restrictions given the changing coronavirus situation, effective Wednesday. For bars and restaurants, these include:

No indoor service, and all service closes at 11 p.m.
All patrons should be seated at tables outside
No ordering, seating, or congregating inside  
No standing or congregating indoors or outdoors while waiting for a table or exiting
Reservations are required for each party
No seating of multiple parties at one table

The state is decreasing the limit of persons allowed to gather to 25, from the former level of 50. While the restrictions largely exempt colleges and their instructional activities, we will follow these guidelines in virtually all cases. 

At Augustana College, we have a very limited number of course sections and ensemble rehearsals that may slightly exceed 25 students, and we have protocols in place to ensure that these are conducted in a responsible manner.

Because evidence from the Quad Cities and elsewhere indicates that not all establishments are responding to this public health crisis in a responsible manner, we will be enforcing these rules ourselves. Students will continue to be subject to quarantine and possible disciplinary action if they are observed inside restaurants and bars. Employees, likewise, are asked to observe these guidelines and avoid entering establishments, regardless of which state you live in.

We have as a campus community performed incredibly well, and I have every reason to expect that the care for and accountability to our fellow members of the Augustana community we have shown so far will sustain us in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and the subsequent break.

For one more update on campus information today, let me pass things to Augustana Vice President Kirk Anderson.

Kirk Anderson

I am an alum of Augustana College. I am the dad of a current student, and I serve as the college's chief financial officer.

Today I wanted to share some information with you as it relates to my role as the Augustana College vice president who oversees human resources. 

Last week a member of the Dining Services management team tested positive during Augustana College's weekly surveillance testing protocol. 

As you might be interested in knowing, this person is not involved in the preparation of food. And the employee notified the college immediately and immediately quarantined. 

Through contract tracing a number of additional employees in Dining Services were asked to quarantine immediately. The steps we've taken are consistent with any positive test identified. We are following our protocols and practices carefully and working within state and CDC guidance. 

In this particular case, because of the essential role of dining, the college conducted a deep, thorough cleaning of all of its facilities on Sunday night. 

We share this information today not to worry you, but because as an institution we aim to be transparent. And as the dad of a kid here, I share your thoughts.

Our cabinet makes our decisions using our professional expertise, and with the care and concern students, parents and employees deserve.

I will now pass off to Keri Rursch. 

Keri Rursch

Before we close, I want to share some important information about a new service that can help our students. 

We know that this fall has been a hard time for many students. Whether on campus or distance learning, they’ve had to adapt to many changes due to the pandemic. 
Because of this, Augustana has added an additional layer of support for student health and well-being. This is a new telehealth service called Students.Care. It is free and available 24 hours a day for medical and mental health needs.

Licensed providers are available to diagnose non-emergency medical conditions (colds and flu, for example) and prescribe medications.

Students also can receive immediate mental health support, or schedule virtual counseling appointments. There are a diverse set of providers to choose from, allowing students to find someone who is a good fit.
Students.Care augments the in-person services already available at the new Augustana Convenient Care Clinic and in-house Student Counseling Office. 

All students are encouraged to register for Students.Care and make their health and well-being a priority.