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Campus briefing, Sept. 3, 2021

President Steve Bahls and Dean of Students Wes Brooks briefed the campus community Sept. 3, 2021, on COVID-19 Illinois testing requirements and Augustana's vaccination requirements.

Following is a transcript of the briefing, edited for length. A video recording also is available.

President Steve Bahls

I’m encouraged as we end the first week of classes and our fifth week of athletic practices for some.

Our community continues to do what it has done for decades.

Step up. Care. Show concern for self and one another.

Understand what it means to be a community. Accept the temporary realities for a long-term gain.

Thank you for diligently wearing your masks inside and for keeping physical distance between you and others as much as possible.

As I share my gratitude, it seems right to turn briefly and discuss the college’s COVID-19 dashboard, which has been updated for the first time this academic year.

We know hard work to prevent COVID-19 can make a difference. The number of daily new cases per 100,000 in Rock Island County is 35.9 over a seven-day moving average, down from last week, but still too high.

As you can tell from the dashboard, the college is closely monitoring vaccination rates and cases of COVID-19 on campus and in our geographic area.

You’ll see our testing regime is just getting started. But over the last two weeks, we’ve had 141 people tested, and uncovered a total of two positive cases: one is in isolation and one is off campus.

While we are fully aware that these numbers will likely grow in the following days, it is good to start the academic year with a foundation like this.

We continue to push hard for students and employees to report their vaccination status, and Dr. Brooks will talk more about that.

For now, I’d just like to summarize that of our 2,384 students, 2,304 have completed the vaccination survey.

2,154 students have indicated they are vaccinated or planned to be vaccinated prior to the start of classes, and that is 93 percent of Augustana students.

Additionally, 150, or 7 percent of students, have indicated that they do not plan to vaccinate.

At Augustana we have manually verified through a personal review of each submitted survey response all of the COVID-19 vaccination information we’ve received, and the Dean of Students Office, deserves gratitude for this Herculean effort.

At this time, they’ve verified full vaccination of 80 percent of current students. And they’ve confirmed that 2.5 percent of students are partially vaccinated and on course to be fully vaccinated soon.

We do have a number of students who have confirmed they are vaccinated, but we are still waiting for them to share their vaccination card. There are 176 students in this group, and we need each of them to provide proof of vaccination as soon as possible, preferably today.

Our employee numbers are not on the website yet, as those numbers are yet to be fully verified, but as of now we know:

We have 677 employees in our payroll system.

20 of the 677 have not been on campus yet this fall.

And 561 have self-reported that they are vaccinated.

This means 85 percent of employees on campus at this time have self-reported that they are vaccinated.

Additionally, I should note we have 47 employees who are not vaccinated and do not have plans to do so. Thirty-one employees have not completed the online survey form as of yesterday.

We will continue to refine these numbers as the verification process continues.

I give you these numbers because Augustana is fully transparent, and to let you know that we are a campus with high vaccination rates.

It is important to note that Illinois state law requires the following: All students and all employees must either be vaccinated or tested each week. Failure to do so will under Illinois law requires exclusion from campus.

All Illinois colleges and universities are subject to these requirements. Augustana is required to determine who is vaccinated and unvaccinated for we can provide the weekly testing. The state does not allow us to grant exceptions.

As such, every student must share their vaccination status with the Dean of Students. Every employee must share their status with Human Resources.

Please walk in today with your card, or photo of your card. If you do not provide us with proof of full vaccination, you must be tested weekly whether or not you are vaccinated.

Additionally, if your plan is not to be vaccinated, but you have not completed the online form, do so today. You can call or stop in to the Dean of Students office, on the first floor of Founders Hall.

Professors listening here: Remind your students.

And parents listening here: Remind your students.

Let’s comply with the governor’s mandate and let’s do what it takes for the number of cases to stay low at Augustana and continue to decrease in the area.

Dean of Student Wes Brooks

In his press conference last week, Ill. Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that as of Sept. 5, the state will require all individuals to be vaccinated or submit to testing at least once a week, including higher education personnel and higher education students.

So, starting next week, we will start a robust testing program to meet this mandate.

Those who must be tested include:

1. Those who have communicated with the college that they are choosing not to or are unable to be vaccinated.

2. Those who have not communicated with the college whatsoever about their vaccination status.

3. Those who are only partially vaccinated at this time.

4. Those who submitted information to the college, indicating they are or would be vaccinated before classes began Aug. 30, but at this time the submission is incomplete due to not providing verifiable documentation. Presumably, these individuals planned to upload a vaccination card later and they haven’t done so at this time, or they indicated they don’t have access to their card, or they uploaded a document that was not legible.

We will work under the assumption that those who have not reported their vaccination status or provided appropriate documentation are unvaccinated. And while we know this will not be entirely accurate, we will depend on those who have reported vaccination but have yet to submit documentation to do so as soon as possible.

Since July, we have been asking students and employees to fill out an online survey form to share their vaccination status. At this time, surveying our campus community is secondary to verifying vaccination status. Therefore, as of this morning, Sept. 3, the survey form for students has been closed, and all students still needing to share their vaccination status should do so by stopping in the Dean of Students office located in Founders Hall. Please stop by before 4:30 today if you have a vaccination record that you have not submitted electronically as of now.

If you have not shared your vaccination status by Tuesday, Sept. 7, you will be required to test at the Augustana Convenient Care Clinic. If you are on the state-mandated testing list but in fact you are vaccinated (as 176 survey responses indicate), you will need to bring your vaccination record to the clinic for verification next week. By doing so, you will not be required to test.

Reporting your vaccination status is mandatory, while getting vaccinated is a personal choice. Failure to participate in this required testing program will result in disciplinary action.

Let me dive in a little deeper on how testing plans are shaping up.

Employees and students being tested will go to the Augustana Convenient Care Clinic west of the Gerber Center.

Employees and students who are required to be tested will receive an email today or tomorrow which will provide details, including which assigned day next week each person should report to the clinic for their required test.

We are not assigning exact times for testing, because we know people’s schedules can be challenging and full, but it is important to go on the date assigned.

For the sake of traffic flow and congestion, it’s important that required testers prioritize participation on their assigned day. Please expect some wait times.

Because of the Labor Day holiday, testing will run Tuesday through Friday next week, from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. In future weeks, testing will run from Monday to Friday.

The test that will be administered is a rapid nasal test, and those being tested, as well as the college, should have confirmation of the findings within 24 hours.

For those who are required to test and choose not to, there will be consequences. I’m working closely with the president, and the cabinet, to determine those consequences. And full information will be shared in the coming days.

But for now, just know that warnings, monetary fines, students losing the opportunity to participate in activities, even needing to be removed from campus, are all being considered. And I sincerely hope we don’t have to enact any disciplinary measures to meet these requirements. It’s not something I want to do or enjoy doing but will do so in accordance with the state’s expectations.

I’ve worked in higher education for quite a while, and while I’m bald and aging every day, it doesn’t feel that long ago that I was a college student and I bet I’d be asking myself if there was any way I could get out of this testing?

And if you are asking yourself that question, the answer is yes.

For those students who are vaccinated already, you can get out of testing by sharing your vaccination card with the Dean of Students office or by bringing your vaccination card to the campus clinic at the time of your testing next week.

For those employees who are vaccinated already, you can share your vaccination card with Kirk Anderson in the Business Office.

And for those who are unvaccinated, students and employees, you can start the vaccination process if you so choose and are able. The Augustana Convenient Care Clinic is still providing free vaccination shots to employees and to students. You can make an appointment today or for next week.

In fact today we have named Vaccination Day! We are encouraging all unvaccinated members of our community to go to the clinic without appointment to get their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. Second doses of the Pfizer vaccine are available at the clinic, too.

Those who are fully vaccinated in the state of Illinois but have lost or do not have access to your vaccination card can go to the Illinois Resident Immunization Portal and follow the instructions to access their vaccination records.

We will accept this version of records for verification. Simply download these records and share them with the Dean of Students office. If you were vaccinated outside of Illinois, go to your state’s public health department website for more information.

As a reminder, in observance of Labor Day, Augustana College is closed next Monday. There are no classes and offices are closed. When classes resume on Tuesday, we will be following the traditional Tuesday schedule.