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Campus briefing Aug. 9, 2021

Following is a transcript of the campus briefing held Aug. 9, 2021, with Augustana President Steve Bahls and Dean of Students Dr. Wes Brooks.

President Steve Bahls

There has rarely been a waking hour this summer when I haven’t thought about COVID-19, our campus community and how we resume classes in a way that ensures the fullest, best experience for our students this fall.

Like you, I was encouraged by the positive trends in the reduction of COVID-19 cases earlier this summer. Then, like you, I became concerned about the Delta variant, which officials have said is more contagious than the original coronavirus strain, and is contributing to a fourth wave of infections and hospitalizations.

In June, July and now August, I’ve pondered theories, listened to experts and reviewed the numbers.

Let me share some recent numbers:

In the U.S. the average daily number of cases is 106,723 per day.

This is a 113% increase in the last 14 days.

And it means there are 32 cases per 100,000 people.

Thankfully as Illinoisans, our state’s number is a bit smaller:

19 cases per 100,000 people.

But still our state saw a 117% change in the last 14 days.

And we’re seeing almost 2,500 new cases daily.

And in particular, Rock Island County, where the college is located, recently saw a 52% increase in cases.

As chair of the board of directors of our local health system, Genesis Health, I have watched hospitalizations, while still low, start to increase. A year ago, hospitalizations were primarily among older Americans. Today most of those being hospitalized are much younger.

While I’m glad our local numbers are better than the nation’s or the state’s, I want us all to be cautious and proactive in continuing to build policies to live responsibly with the COVID pandemic. This means Augustana must continue to follow public health guidance. Public health guidance has changed as a result of the impact of the Delta variant, and our policies must change, too.

As the president of a college that is set to resume classes on Aug. 30, I’m here to ask everyone to take action now.

Starting today, when you are on campus, inside and in public spaces, wear a mask.

Augustana will follow the guidance of the CDC and Illinois public health officials by asking everyone — vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals — to mask up inside our campus buildings.

When you are in indoor public spaces off campus, we ask that you mask up then, too.

It is our hope that the current spike and challenges created by the Delta variant will subside, and we will reassess rules regularly. We hope that the virus will subside again, and the requirement of wearing masks inside buildings will only last for a matter of weeks.

Dean of Student Dr. Wes Brooks

Since early July, Augustana College has asked all enrolled students and all current employees to share their vaccination status. Understanding the vaccination rate helps us prepare for a successful start to the school year.

As of 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 7, it appears 2,089 of 2,230 student respondents (94%) have or will have had their vaccinations by the return to campus. And if we assume all non-respondents are not vaccinated, our vaccination rate stands at 83% of students.

For employees, we're at 560 of 600 respondents, and 93% have or will be vaccinated. And if we assume all non-respondents are not vaccinated, our vaccination rate stands at 76%.

Some of these calculations are probably lower than the actual vaccination rate, and we anticipate that the vaccination rate will continue to increase, especially once students return to campus.

It will be easy to get vaccinated on campus, at the campus health clinic.

I’d like to move into sharing 10 important pieces of information:

1. The COVID-19 vaccine is strongly encouraged for all community members. The vaccination protects the person who receives it, their family, their friends and their communities. It is the surest way for students to be able to enjoy all the benefits and opportunities of living and learning on campus. It is also the most important step our community members can take to end the pandemic.

2. All members of the campus community and visitors are required to be masked in all indoor public areas. Examples of these areas include classrooms and labs, indoor student activities, and lounge areas in residence halls. We will continue to monitor public health guidance and our local and county situations to determine if and when masking can be reduced for vaccinated community members.

3. Students and employees who choose not to vaccinate will be asked to take a few additional mitigation efforts:

• Daily temperature checks are required.

• Self-health screenings are required daily and must be entered into the Augustana health screening app.

• Participation in COVID-19 surveillance testing. Testing will take place at the campus clinic, and scheduling details will be shared in the coming weeks.

• You may have to sequester, quarantine or isolate when someone experiences COVID-19 symptoms or when that person has been in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

4. As last year, all students will be asked to sign a pledge. The pledge indicates support of and a willingness to adhere to expectations to responsibly co-exist with COVID-19. This pledge will be a part of the COVID student training program. (Augie Allies pledge)

5. Contact tracing remains an important aspect of the college’s COVID-19 response plan. Contact tracing will be performed in one of two ways during the academic year. Rock Island County Public Health will manage contact tracing, and the college will assist as needed.

6. While vaccination is not required of all students at this time, it may be required for students taking part in particular programs or activities. In private indoor settings, such as office spaces, employees are not required to mask. Similarly, in residence hall private sleeping rooms, students are not required to mask. In both examples, however, when others join you in those spaces, we would expect masking at this time.

7. Incoming first-year students were given an optional opportunity to disclose vaccination status and request a vaccinated roommate. Returning students self-select roommates and new students are able to request particular roommates as well. We expect those roommate pairings and groups to manage their living environments among themselves regarding who is and is not vaccinated.

8. Student organizations (including sororities and fraternities) will be able to reserve college venues and meet in person. When possible, groups still are strongly encouraged to meet outdoors. Group meetings may not exceed capacity limits in rooms. At student activities, indoor venues currently require all students to mask. In outdoor high-density spaces, unvaccinated students are required to wear masks and physically distance (whenever possible) when attending meetings and events.

9. Student Counseling will offer both in-person and remote counseling.

10. Augustana’s approach to intercollegiate athletics is grounded in NCAA guidance. We have a desire and commitment to allow all interested student-athletes to participate in their sport.

To participate, all varsity student-athletes must indicate their vaccination status and upload that record if vaccinated. Those who do not complete the vaccine survey may not be eligible to participate.

All varsity athletes should be in communication with their coach or the athletic director if they have specific COVID-related questions or concerns.

Community principles

Similar to last year, policy will be enforced through a multi-pronged approach. Three specific measures include: believing in Augustana’s community principles and the honor system, encouraging self-ownership and personal responsibility, and when necessary, referral to the student conduct system.

Clearly communicating expectations

All community members should feel comfortable communicating current policies and expectations of the college. For example, faculty members are welcome to reiterate policies in classrooms, such as masking or wiping down surfaces upon arrival and departure. It is entirely appropriate to expect compliance from students of reasonable requests. Other examples: Residence hall staff can discuss visitation policies, and students can address physical distancing concerns or dangerous behaviors. These communications and exchanges should be done in a respectful way.

The honor system

The Augustana community principles of accountability, responsibility and care are essential to the community’s ongoing success co-existing with COVID-19.

Each individual member of this community makes choices every day, and we believe students will make the appropriate choices to co-exist with COVID responsibly. For everyone to do their part, we are asking all members of our community to believe students will live out the community principles as they did in large part last year.

Students need to abide by the honor code, which includes adhering to reasonable requests of college officials, such as masking, physical distancing and adhering to the changing expectations that will be made this fall.

Student code of conduct

If a person is non-compliant with any mitigation efforts, they are subject to sanctions within the student code of conduct.

Future communications

I ask that you continue to keep a close eye on the COVID-19 information page and our social media channels. Information will be shared later today and in the days ahead.

We will keep a watchful eye on national, state and county guidance. We know our approach will continue to evolve. We will plan to conduct another campus briefing on or before Aug. 24.