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Mask-be-gone: St. Olaf gets rid of mask mandate

On Sept. 24, St. Olaf’s Campus Reopening Team announced that masks would no longer be required on campus in most situations. The team said in an email to the student body that they had finished the baseline COVID-19 testing we began at the start of fall semester, and based on the results of that testing, the college would end its mask requirement. Student responses have been mixed — while some have done away with masks, others continue to wear them at all times.

Here’s our breakdown of the new rules and the data:

Masks will be required for all people using college transportation and at all events with non-St. Olaf people — like church services, which some Northfield residents attend.

All visitors to campus will be required to mask. It is somewhat unclear how the college plans to enforce this rule, given that some visitors are friends or significant others of students, and it will not be easy to distinguish between students and visitors in those situations.

Faculty and staff members get to choose what happens in their offices and classrooms. Faculty members have the authority to require masks in class if they choose, and some are requiring them because of health concerns to protect unvaccinated family members, like young children, or for other personal reasons. Individual musical ensembles and sports teams are in the process of deciding what their masking protocols will be. 

Masks will be optional in most other circumstances around campus.

Two key factors led to the college doing away with its mask requirement–vaccination rates and the results of the baseline testing.

As of this writing, 98.3 percent of St. Olaf students and 96.7 percent of faculty and staff members are at least partially vaccinated.

St. Olaf conducted three sets of COVID-19 tests as people began to return to campus for the school year. Students who came back to campus early, like athletes, were tested between Aug. 11 and Sept. 3. There were 1,231 tests and six positive cases, a positivity rate of 0.49 percent.

Students, faculty, and staff were tested twice for the baseline assessment. The first round included 3,125 tests and eight positive cases, a 0.26 percent positivity rate.

The second round, which we just finished, included 3,492 tests and 7 positive cases, a 0.20 percent positivity rate.

Currently, 11 members of the campus community are in isolation, meaning they have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are symptomatic. Five are in quarantine, meaning that they both are unvaccinated and have had close contact with someone who tested positive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend masks for vaccinated people in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission rates. Rice County currently has a high transmission rate. Based on the CDC system for categorizing transmission rates, if St. Olaf were to be categorized by itself, we would be categorized as low, as we have had fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people this week and under a five percent positivity rate in testing.

St. Olaf plans to test symptomatic people and those who are in close contact with someone who has tested positive. They do not plan to conduct the sort of weekly tests that we had last academic year.


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