I am breaking the Monday/Thursday digest routine to give you an update on recent COVID testing results and steps the University is taking in response.
Since Friday, we have identified more cases of COVID among the student body. In response, the Task Force on Reopening convened today and offered a series of recommendations to the Executive Group.
Based on recommendations from the Task Force on Reopening, the University is requiring that masks be worn indoors at all times when students are not in their rooms and employees are not alone in their offices. This includes hallways and classrooms. We strongly encourage you to take advantage of grab-and-go options at Frank and our other dining locations. We strongly discourage large gatherings for the next two weeks. If you must gather, please do so outdoors, keep your masks on, and do not serve food.
The following is a message from the Task Force.
Dear Colgate Community,
The number of positive cases among the Colgate student population has increased, with nearly 30 new cases being reported since Friday. These new cases were identified as a result of many students requesting testing over this weekend, following their worries about a potential exposure or their confirmation as a close contact of a positive student case identified earlier in the week. It is important to note that the students testing positive are either asymptomatic or presenting with mild cold and flu-like symptoms. These have included both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
In light of this new information, the Task Force on Reopening is recommending the following policy changes, which will be implemented immediately, and for at least the next two weeks:
- Masking will now be required in all University indoor spaces. As we have communicated before and the science continues to support, masks are effective at reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and helping to prevent infection and illness, when worn consistently and effectively (tight fitting, covering the mouth and nose). Unless alone in one’s private residence hall room, or office, masks should be worn at all times, including hallways, common areas, elevators, etc.
- Students are strongly encouraged to utilize grab-and-go dining as much as possible and to limit the time they spend in indoor dining halls. Physical distancing should be maintained while inside the dining hall, especially when masks are off during eating.
- Large indoor, social gatherings where compliance with physical distancing and mask wearing cannot be maintained, or where food is consumed, should be avoided for the time being. These settings and conditions present more risk than the controlled settings such as classrooms, libraries, or offices. If they cannot be rescheduled for a later date, social gatherings should be moved outdoors. Food should be avoided so that masks can remain on in these settings where physical distancing isn’t possible.
The University’s vaccination requirement and the resulting 96+% vaccination rate continues to provide a very effective layer of protection against severe illness or hospitalization should one become infected with SARS-CoV-2. This confidence derives not solely from Colgate cases since June 2021 but also from several national studies that demonstrate that all three vaccines retain high efficacy against severe illness, including against the Delta variant. Indeed, more than 99.99% of people who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death.
Nevertheless, these new cases confirm that the SARS-CoV-2, and likely the Delta variant, is present within the campus community. While the overall health risks associated with these infections in vaccinated individuals are likely not to be significant, given the vaccination status on campus, it is critical to recognize and sincerely appreciate the concerns we have heard from colleagues and students — indeed, the worries and anxiety — about the health of their loved ones, especially unvaccinated children or immunocompromised dependents. We hear these concerns, and want to reinforce that we have employed many tools available to minimize the risk of transmission, including increasing ventilation within buildings, and increasing cleaning frequency in academic spaces. This reinforcement of the use of face coverings in campus buildings will also significantly mitigate the risk of transmission in these spaces, even as we recognize that it is impossible to completely stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
The Task Force has developed a comprehensive plan to prevent as many infections as possible; however, managing this virus is much different than it was in the 2020-2021 academic year, when the goal was to identify every case. Within a highly vaccinated population, where all three available vaccinations are effective at preventing serious illness or disease, the approach must shift toward managing the virus as though it is likely to be endemic on college and university campuses, and indeed, throughout the world, for many years to come. Identifying every case, then, in this likely scenario, is not only unnecessary, it is impractical and unsustainable. Even with travel bans, guest prohibitions, meal delivery, universal quarantines, and unsustainable enforcement tactics, it is an impossibility to achieve a “zero COVID-19” state. However, we are also confident that a campus environment with 96+% vaccination rate doesn’t require us to manage this pandemic the way we did in the first phase of the pandemic. By reducing spread when appropriate, and mitigating risk for those more vulnerable individuals and their families, we can maintain our academic mission while keeping infections at a manageable level. In short, while these new policies are meant to reduce the spread of infection, the Task Force does not assume that they will result in a COVID-free campus, nor do they need to in order to maintain a safe working environment for the campus community. Indeed, the campus environment, including the classroom and residential living areas, is safer than other surrounding communities and settings with far lower vaccination rates. With local K-12 schools beginning this week, where a large number of students are ineligible for vaccinations, we will be presented with another risk that we will need to manage within our own community.
Minimizing disease spread, then, is also important in order to maintain our academic mission to provide residential, in-person instruction.Contracting SARS-CoV-2 will require isolation for ten days and may result in symptoms (although some positive cases are not presenting any symptoms), and this poses challenges for both students and instructors as they seek to maintain continuity in their academic experience. Faculty may respond to these situations in ways that are consistent with their course goals and pedagogies. The offices and programs of the Dean of the Faculty are available to assist and support faculty and staff in delivering course instruction.
Colgate’s decisions and the changes this year continue to reflect evidence-based policies and practices concerning the virus and the high transmissibility of the Delta variant. These decisions also continue to be guided by the principles of the Task Force on Reopening that have shaped our decisions and policies since the beginning, including the importance of health and safety within this campus community and a commitment to in-person, liberal arts instruction.
To reiterate, given the available science from a full 18 months since this pandemic began, combined with a vaccination requirement, Colgate continues to be a safe place of instruction and employment again this year. Contact tracing to date has not revealed transmission among students within Colgate academic spaces, including classrooms, studios and labs. Additionally, positive cases identified on campus since the reopening in August have not resulted in serious illness. These data support our continuation of in-person instruction and other campus activities reflective of a residential, liberal arts university.
Strategies to reduce infection are now well known, understood and established: vaccination (which with over 96+% persons vaccinated at Colgate is essentially accomplished); proper mask wearing; physical distancing; and testing and contact tracing. We draw on these tools to strengthen the barriers to disease transmission but we must do it differently than last year because the science has shown that chances of severe illness and hospitalization is very small in a highly vaccinated population.
Testing for students who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 will continue taking place at Student Health Services during regular business hours (Monday–Friday: 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.; Saturday: noon–4 p.m.). Students must call first (315-228-7750). After hours, students should monitor symptoms and call Campus Safety (315-228-7333) or report to the Community Memorial Hospital Emergency Room should symptoms worsen: trouble breathing, fever greater than 100.4℉ or 38℃, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, or bluish lips or face.
Weekly, required testing for unvaccinated individuals will continue to take place in the tent adjacent to James C. Colgate Hall on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Unvaccinated faculty, staff, and students will continue to make appointments for this testing.
PCR testing for close contacts will be offered three to five days following exposure, and will take place in the tent located adjacent to the James C. Colgate Hall, Monday–Friday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Students who are asymptomatic and are worried about possible exposure may also be tested at these times if space is available and medically warranted. Information about scheduling such a test will be sent in a separate email to students on Monday. Until then, testing will be available Monday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Faculty and staff who are experiencing symptoms should stay home from work, consult their primary care physician or medical provider, and seek diagnostic testing and follow-up instructions. Testing following the identification as a close contact or for those employees who wish to to seek asymptomatic ‘worried or well’ testing may find both rapid, antigen-based and PCR tests at Dougherty or Kinney Pharmacy in Hamilton or Morrisville or any of these other testing locations.
As a reminder, SARS-CoV-2 is spread through close contact; casual interactions of short duration, masked or unmasked, are unlikely to transmit the virus. When contact tracing is conducted following a positive COVID-19 test, close contacts are defined as people who have been within 6 feet of that positive case for 15 minutes or longer within 2 days prior to illness onset, regardless of whether the contact was wearing a mask or whether one is vaccinated or unvaccinated. The distance expands to 12 feet for increased exhalation activities such as singing or exercising.
Contact tracers will take into consideration the type of contact (direct physical touching or otherwise), the duration of that contact, the relative proximity of the individuals, and whether the COVID-19-positive individual displayed symptoms such as coughing, which could increase the likelihood of transmission. Following a potential exposure, it will be a trained contact tracer who contacts you to determine if you are a close contact, so please do not assume that any contact with an individual positive for SARS-CoV-2 represents a transmission risk.
Those who are identified as a close contact will be notified directly by the Madison County Department of Health or Student Health Services and then required to test on the third to fifth day following exposure (and not before, unless symptomatic).
The challenge before us is to find a way to maintain Colgate's outstanding, residential liberal arts education while also learning to live together with a virus that is endemic, and that we cannot elude. We may yearn for a return to a past, COVID-free “normality,” but such a normality is not now possible. That does not mean that we cannot find new positive routines and practices — indeed it is incumbent on us to do precisely that. And we can remain Colgate Together by following our values, engaging the science and working with one another to this common end. This is what great university communities do and what continues to be necessary for us now.
We are in this together. Still. But we will get through this as a community, and I thank you for everything you do both to maintain community health and to sustain the Colgate spirit. We wish all the best to those who are now recovering, and we hope to see you back in class soon.