Date: March 2, 2021

Dear Students, 

We are pleased to note in this week’s CRT update that our numbers for isolation and quarantine cases continue to trend in the right direction.

On Feb. 17, we had 93 on-campus students and 22 off-campus students in isolation (confirmed positive cases) for a total of 115 cases. We also had 193 students who were confirmed as close contacts and put in quarantine.

A week later, on Feb. 24, we were down to 14 students in isolation and 62 quarantine cases, and as of Feb. 28, we had just 10 students in isolation, including four on campus students, and just 36 quarantine cases.

Suffice it to say our two-week enhanced physical distancing did what it was intended to do. And we are grateful to everyone who responded to the directive in such positive and communal ways. Our campus made a renewed commitment to daily symptom-monitoring, mask wearing, physical distancing, and avoidance of social gatherings. Thank you and keep it up!

NEW THIS WEEK

  • Dining Halls Open with Restrictions
  • A Look Back at Key COVID Metrics
  • Update on Asymptomatic Testing at Calvin
  • Spring Break and Upcoming Break Days

Dining Halls Open with Restrictions

The big news for many this week is that yesterday we began a phased reopening of the dining halls for in-person dining. Students are especially grateful for this loosening of one of the key restrictions that was put into place at the start of our two-week period of enhanced distancing. However, this reopening comes with several points of caution and concern, as our hard-working contact tracing team continues to believe that the surge we saw at the start of the spring semester was largely driven by students eating together. In addition, during the early weeks of the semester, we also had many Creative Dining Services staff and student employees who were either in isolation or quarantine, which made staffing the dining halls a particular challenge.

Now, we are thankfully seeing both staff and student employees return, and our COVID numbers continue to trend in the right direction.  As such, we have reopened seating in both the dining halls and Johnny's as of yesterday. In all three places, we are limiting seating to one person per table, a set-up that our Creative Dining partners believe will make it easier to enforce the seating and social distancing policies and keep up on sanitation.

Please note that prior to the recent closure of Johnny's, there were numerous concerns about distancing guidelines not being followed, including tables and chairs being moved and groups of people hanging out without masks and eating near one another. We need all students, staff, and faculty to follow the posted restrictions for these spaces, so that we can continue to keep our isolation and quarantine numbers low. We are hopeful that we will be able to phase in additional seating as we see evidence of communal health and safety practices being followed.

A Look Back at Key COVID Metrics

Our collective efforts to help slow the spread of COVID-19 are working, and as we assess the impact of these measures, we are also looking at some of the key metrics that were most worrisome to us during the recent surge in cases. Studying these metrics helps us to better understand the circumstances that might lead Calvin to have to pivot the ways we provide our liberal arts education in the future (for example, from in-person to remote). Over the past several weeks, we have received questions asking about the types of indicators that help senior leaders and the COVID Response Team make decisions.  Managing health and safety concerns and assessing system resources is complex and involves several variables.  We thought it would be helpful to share a few of the indicators that we use to assess our daily operations and determine whether additional COVID safety measures are necessary. The following examples highlight some areas that would be cause for concern and may lead to future operational pivots:

  • So many staff members ill or in quarantine at the same time that it would not be possible to keep the campus running
  • So many faculty ill or in quarantine at the same time that their classes could no longer be taught
  • Not enough isolation and quarantine space for all the students who need care
  • Health Services staff unable to keep up with the demand to provide timely and responsive care to sick students
  • The student population requiring food delivery reaches a sustained level that eclipses resources (staffing) to offer both dining services and delivery services
  • Contact tracers unable to get to investigations of positive cases within 24 hours
  • Evidence of significant classroom spread 

This is just a small selection of the many metrics the COVID Response Team assesses each week, and decisions are rarely made based on one single variable.  Moving forward, we will continue to assess campus metrics with a goal of protecting the health and safety of all Calvin constituents as well as doing everything we can to preserve the rich in-person living and learning experiences that we all value.

Update on Asymptomatic Testing at Calvin

Colleges and universities are being encouraged to increase their on-campus testing, and we successfully launched our spring asymptomatic screening testing clinic last week. Last semester, asymptomatic surveillance screenings helped us identify people who have COVID-19 but did not know they were contagious because they were not experiencing symptoms.  In our first week of testing this semester, a similar outcome occurred, which affirms that asymptomatic screening can be a valuable tool in our communal effort to slow the spread of illness and maintain our ability to do in-person living and learning together. This outcome is why we do asymptomatic testing and is an invaluable tool in our communal efforts to slow the spread of illness and maintain our ability to do in-person living and learning together.

Students who participated in the asymptomatic surveillance testing last week were thrilled that results were available in just 15 minutes, and that they did not have to wait around at the Track & Tennis Center for results. Instead, their results were delivered directly through the free NAVICA app (available in the App Store or Google Play) that accompanies this rapid antigen testing program.  Check your email for a recent email from Navica with a “Connect Code” to connect your Navica app with Calvin University (under settings, “connect an organization”) or write covidsurveillancetesting@calvin.edu to request a new Connect Code.

The spring surveillance testing program will continue each week, with students being randomly selected for testing. This testing will be by appointment only; no walk-ins. Students will need to pay attention to their emails to learn if they’ve been selected, and they’ll need to follow instructions to schedule their appointment for testing within the next 24 hours after having been selected.

An especially important reminder: Our weekly clinic is for students who do not have symptoms. If you are experiencing symptoms—no matter how mild, please report your symptoms through #CampusClear and the Health Services patient portal.  Same day testing appointments are available Monday-Friday for sick students as indicated by CDC guidelines. One of the reasons for the recent decline in the number of students in quarantine is that students are doing a much better job reporting symptoms as soon as they occur. This timely reporting helps to decrease the number of close contacts a student might have and protects others. So please, continue to report symptoms immediately and do not use the random screening appointments for diagnostic testing of symptoms.

One final note on the asymptomatic testing clinics in the Tennis & Track Center: these clinics are being staffed by more than 90 volunteers, many of whom work in other capacities at Calvin. This amazing cadre of volunteers responded to the call and are providing an essential resource at Calvin this spring. If you happen to be at one of the clinics, please do thank them for their work.

Spring Break and Upcoming Break Days

This week, we welcome one of the first break days of the spring semester as there will be no classes held on Thursday, March 4. In addition to enjoying productive advising appointments, we are hopeful that students will be able to enjoy some pleasant weather and a different pace.

As students (and faculty) know, because of COVID, we will not have a traditional spring break this year. This was a hard but necessary decision made to limit the potential spread of COVID within the Calvin community. We do know that some faculty members have expressed concern for both themselves and students regarding the lack of a mid-semester break, and they have brainstormed ways to reduce stress and change the pace of academic work mid-semester. 

Though not all courses allow for schedule changes, and faculty are not required to adjust their teaching, many faculty have already communicated with their students about their plans. As a reminder, Calvin is strongly discouraging travel during any of these “change of pace” times or during any of the upcoming official spring semester break days. Traveling would defeat the COVID-related purpose of removing a traditional spring break and ending the semester a week early. Please do not leave campus for any spring-break type travel and do not expect your professors to accommodate such travel.

Finally, any students who are feeling overwhelmed in particular courses are encouraged to share such concerns with their professors. We have seen extraordinary efforts this year by faculty to support and encourage students, and we invite students to continue to approach faculty and staff with concerns; we want to care well for each other in these extraordinary times.

LINKS WE LIKE 

The COVID-Response Team

Kristen Alford
Jennifer Ambrose
Laura Champion
Todd Dornbos
Jim English
Todd Hubers (co-chair)
Matt Kucinski
Brian Paige
Sarah Visser (co-chair)
John Witte