Campus briefing, Aug. 23, 2021
President Steve Bahls and Dean of Students Wes Brooks briefed the campus community Aug. 23, 2021, on COVID-19 guidelines and requirements at the beginning of fall semester.
Following is a transcript of the briefing, edited for length. A video recording also is available.
President Steve Bahls
The theme for this year will be "Be well. Together." With your help we will be well together..
I’m glad PACE, our multicultural mentorship program, is taking place, and I’m glad so many international students have arrived on campus, or at least to Rock Island, as some are quarantining at the Holiday Inn here in Rock Island.
I look forward to welcoming each member of the Augustana community back to campus.
It is also a milestone day in what has been a pathway of many ups and downs related to COVID-19. As you probably know by now, the FDA has approved the Pfizer COVID vaccine. This gives us new hope today, and we will look into this news and its impact on our campus and our policies. Full approval of the Pfizer vaccine is yet another good reason to get vaccinated.
And I am hopeful because of the high vaccination rates among members of the Augustana community.
But that optimism is tempered by this fact. As in almost all parts of our nation, new cases of COVID are too high. Daily new cases in Rock Island County are 40.6 per 100,000 on a seven-day moving average.
I remain concerned about the safety of the Augustana community. We can’t take a pause in our resolve to live responsibly with COVID.
We’ve conducted a successful campaign to encourage vaccinations this summer and reimplemented many of the protections required last year. These have been our guiding principles in living responsibly with COVID:
• The safety of our community is a core value.
• Offering in-person education to students is a core value, provided we can do so responsibly.
• Relying on the advice of public health officials.
• Making decisions only after sufficient facts are in evidence
• Remaining agile, adapting to changing conditions as required. We will develop solutions best for Augustana, not necessarily following the herd.
As you know, our vaccination rate for employees and students of 90 to 95% is materially higher than most colleges and exceeds the rate of many colleges requiring the vaccination subject to exemptions.
Students not vaccinated will face some limitations — no participation in choir and band, no international travel, continued masking indoors when that requirement is lifted for vaccinated persons, no participation in certain internships and required surveillance testing.
The college will adjust protective measures as conditions warrant. We will pay particular attention to the number of cases within the Augustana community.
Anticipated protective measures for the first week of classes:
• Everyone must mask inside, with the exception of roommates in their residence hall rooms and employees alone in their offices.
• Unvaccinated students must be tested once every two weeks.
• We have revised our decision to have Rock Island County perform our contact tracing. We believe by doing it ourselves we can deliver a quicker response time and thus better protect our campus community.
• Plexiglass in the Gerber Center has been reinstalled.
• We are maintaining three feet of space in the classroom, more when possible.
With all this said, we expect that the college’s response may change, perhaps from week to week depending on conditions on campus or in the community. At this point, it is impossible to say that we will have this or that response under this or that circumstance because we are committed to consulting with public health officials and considering all factors.
We have developed a grid of what factors we will consider in making decisions, which will be shared with the campus community on the college website, later this week.
Additionally, watch your email for a campus update tomorrow. Both the website and emails will be important ways we share information. We will do our best to keep you informed.
Dean of Students Wes Brooks
I want to share the numbers with you. Most members of our community have completed the COVID-19 vaccine form, and we are grateful for everyone who has done so.
Our records indicate we have heard from 2,299 students. And 682 employees have completed the form, which includes some part-time staff.
Of those completing the online form, 2,141 of the 2,299 students are fully vaccinated or said they will be by the time classes start.
And of those completing the form, 642 of 682 employees are fully vaccinated or said they will be before classes start.
What this means is that: 2,783 members of our campus community are or soon will be fully vaccinated.
As of today, approximately 91 percent of our campus community has or will be vaccinated before the start of classes, including approximately 92 percent of students and approximately 90 percent of employees.
For the sake of transparency, it’s important to say that these numbers, especially the percentages, have the potential to change a bit. As students make last-minute decisions to attend or leave the college, and as employees come and go, we expect to see some fluctuation in the data.
These percentages are high. Very high. In fact so high, that most colleges, universities, private sector businesses and even hospitals are probably a little envious.
As we move forward, I want to share with you some of the recent decisions, updates, information and reminders.
Masking, contact tracing, testing and quarantine
Reminder No. 1: Wear a mask. Please be masked inside on campus regardless of vaccination status. Unless you are a student in your own residence hall room or you are an employee in your own office, wear a mask.
This means students moving into campus-owned housing this week, must wear masks, and any family members or friends who are helping you move in must wear masks, too.
Everyone in classrooms should be masked, vaccinated or not. We will keep at least three feet of distance in classrooms between people at all times. And if the location allows for more, keep more.
Faculty can request new locations for classes if the spacing is not adequate. Last fall, outdoor classes seemed to pop up often on the Quad and in other areas of campus. It is our hope that will be the case this fall, too.
We will conduct contact tracing Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. To be honest, we do contact tracing well. Our internal contact tracing team was unbelievable last year, and we hope to continue to work quickly to ensure less spread of COVID-19 on our campus.
About quarantine. We will have a small number of quarantine rooms on campus for our students. We will encourage students who can go home to go home to quarantine, and if we have any overflow, we will work closely with the Holiday Inn in Rock Island to house quarantine students.
The Holiday Inn is helping many of our international students meet quarantine requirements.
Kirk Anderson, our chief financial officer, has done great work in coordinating testing for our athletes who arrived to campus early, and also students traveling internationally.
We are also establishing our process of managing the regular testing of unvaccinated students. Unvaccinated students can expect to be tested once every two weeks at the health clinic on campus. More information about exact times and dates for testing will come by email.
Augustana will follow guidelines and protocols recommended by the NCAA and CCIW. Unvaccinated student-athletes will be tested weekly during the competitive portion of their seasons.
Masks are required in all indoor, public spaces such as the athletic training room, the Carver Center lobby, Fairchild Family Strength Center and team locker rooms.
Face coverings are required in all team travel situations. Face coverings are not required during competitions or practices. And spectators are permitted at all contests.
While a good number of students have already arrived on campus, I know the vast majority of students will be moving in the next few days.
If you haven’t already, and you will live in a campus-owned residence, please complete the vaccination form. The form must be completed before students can get keys to their residences.
Also, as mentioned earlier, when moving into Augustana housing, students must wear masks, and any family members or friends who are helping someone move in must wear masks, too.
At this time, family members are invited to join new, incoming students for the opening convocation on Thursday at 1 p.m., at the Austin E. Knowlton Outdoor Athletic Complex. This year’s event is outside to reduce the risks of spreading COVID-19, and masking will be required of those who are unvaccinated. Masking is also encouraged for all of those who are vaccinated as it is a large gathering, albeit outdoors. .
Finally, to any students who are still packing boxes or suitcases, please be sure to pack masks. Having a supply of masks — either disposable or the re-usable ones — will be essential as we start this school year.
We will do our best to stay in tune with the latest updates from the CDC, FDA and public health officials.
We will keep lines of communication open. Our goal is to produce regular e-newsletters with information about COVID-19. We will continue to do campus briefings like this one, and we will use our website and social media channels to communicate with students and their families, as well as employees.
Last year we used the tagline “Vikings Take Care.”
Let’s keep that tagline. And let’s keep taking care of ourselves, one another and this joyful, passionate community that is Augustana College.
Together we will remain Augustana Strong!