COVID-19 Update: Public Health Safeguards for the Fall
June 29, 2020
Dear members of our Saint Louis University community,
In recent emails, we have described many of the public health safeguards that we are either considering deploying or have already implemented as we approach the early start to our fall term. Successfully minimizing further spread is predicated on our commitment to actively practice these critical health measures.
Of course, we all would prefer to not have to maintain 6-feet of physical distance or manage fogged-up glasses because of a face mask. But our individual choices will have a collective impact. Whether that impact is for good or for ill is up to us.
We know COVID-19 has disparate effects across populations of different races, ages and health statuses. Members of our communities are affected by combinations of these risk factors. These safety measures help protect our colleagues, friends and neighbors. In that spirit, I implore you to join me in committing to these safeguards:
- Wear a face mask.
- Frequently perform hand hygiene regularly.
- Stay 6-feet apart from one another.
Community is the “greater good” which our motto aims to achieve. Each of us must keep this shared value at the forefront of our hearts and minds. We are Billikens for and with others. We are OneSLU.
In the days ahead, students will receive two critical emails:
- Students who expect to live on campus this fall will hear from the Division of Student Development about how we plan to approach housing. Students who need an exemption from on-campus housing will have an opportunity to submit a request.
- All students will receive a communication from the Office of the Provost. It will include a survey gauging their intent to attend in-person classes, or whether they should, or prefer to, attend classes remotely.
We understand that international travel, health risks from existing conditions, and a variety of other circumstances, might lead some students to decide remote learning is best for the fall. We understand, and we want to support our student Billikens through that decision.
Before the survey, however, I feel it is important for students and families to hear from me about the public health measures we expect to be adopted this fall. This will allow them to make the best and most informed decision about housing and instruction options.
As I have stressed in previous messages, we can’t predict the trajectory of this virus or the amount of local spread. We do not know whether the City of St. Louis will issue additional guidance that permits more relaxed public health behaviors – or how our policies at SLU may or may not change in response. We have to proceed with what we know right now and will adjust as circumstances dictate.
The following safeguards were recommended by the COVID-19 Recovery Working Group. This group includes faculty, staff and students, as well as University public health experts. These safeguards have been deemed the most essential to protect the health of all members of our University community and are based on the best information available to us at this time. Some of these safeguards have already been put in place this summer for those who must be on campus.
This fall we will implement (or continue if already in place):
- Social distancing — To manage and minimize community spread, we will continue to require 6 feet of social distancing. Our teams are actively reconfiguring spaces and developing guidance on how to accommodate this requirement across campus, including classrooms, dining halls, meeting spaces and elevators. We are installing plexiglass shields in some high-traffic, customer-facing areas such as reception desks in places like the Simon Recreation Center. We are still working through how social distancing will affect housing assignments for students.
- Face masks and coverings — At the start of the semester, the University will provide two washable cloth face masks to each student, faculty and staff. More information on that distribution process is forthcoming. Masks or face coverings will be required in public spaces, including classrooms, meeting rooms and the library, where 6-feet of social distancing is also required. Wearing a face mask in public and being at least 6 feet away from others dramatically reduces risk of COVID-19 infection because they deter “close contact.” Close contact means coming within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes with a COVID-19-positive person, even if they are asymptomatic. (If you have not yet read the current version of our University policy on face masks, please do so.)
- Daily symptom checking and reporting — To help identify symptoms and potentially-infected individuals and stymie possible outbreaks, we will launch a daily process for students, staff and faculty to record key health information and report any health changes that could be COVID-19 symptoms. The limited number of employees currently approved to work in non-clinical, on-campus settings are already recording and sharing any symptoms before coming to work each day. This has become a best practice at organizations throughout the world. We are evaluating different smartphone app options for students and employees to use in the fall, as well as options for those without access to a smartphone. Expect more information on this as soon as it is available, including how we will use and protect this data.
- Continued testing for those who are symptomatic — Both Employee Health and the Student Health Center will continue screening and testing anyone who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms. As you will read later in this email, testing may also be available for asymptomatic individuals. Employee Health and the Student Health Center will communicate with the St. Louis Health Department so the City can conduct contact tracing to identify all the people with whom a COVID-19-positive person came in contact.
- Isolation and quarantine housing — During the spring semester, we had designated housing units in the Village where symptomatic students and COVID-19-positive students were required to isolate, and where students who came in close contact with a COVID-19-positive person could quarantine. We expect to set aside space for isolation (for those who have COVID-19) and quarantine (for those exposed to someone with COVID-19) housing this fall. We have not yet decided the location. Unfortunately, this public health protection will require us to find alternative housing units for students who had previously been assigned those spaces in the location(s) we ultimately choose. As soon as isolation and quarantine spaces are finalized, we will alert those affected students and share their new housing assignments.
- Handwashing and sanitizing stations — As mentioned previously, more than 800 touchless hand sanitizer stations will soon be mounted in buildings across our campuses, including key entry and exit points, and by elevators. Bottles of sanitizing solution also will be available to departments.
- Cleaning and disinfecting — Maintenance staff members are increasing cleaning and disinfecting efforts in public areas across our campuses. Where possible, we will have spray bottles with disinfecting solution, or sanitizing wipes, available for use by students, staff and faculty in high-traffic areas, like residence hall common or public spaces, the Simon Rec Center, etc. This will help increase the frequency that high-touch surfaces are cleaned each day, beyond the regular efforts of our custodians. Distribution logistics will be finalized in the coming weeks. I reiterate that compliance with these safeguards also help protect our custodial staff and other frontline workers whose work helps make our University operate smoothly. Each and every one of us must do our part.
- Training and education — We continue to explore ways to train our faculty, staff and students about these critical safeguards in order to ensure our collective success. This will likely include a social contract ensuring all of us are clear about and committed to our expectations of one another as we live, work, learn, treat patients, and worship on campus. Additionally, our marketing team is developing a series of educational flyers and signs that will be posted in July.
While these public health practices are required of each of us on campus, we understand much of a student’s or employee’s life happens elsewhere. I implore each of you to follow these safeguards off campus as well.
We will create an on-campus environment where our new normal includes social distancing, and we will explore ways to foster social dynamism while promoting safe, responsible action. More information on these opportunities is forthcoming, and I would encourage students to begin brainstorming now with friends, organization members and classmates on ways they can still achieve their social goals while honoring OneSLU and protecting the greater St. Louis community.
Other safeguards we are not implementing at this time
There are a few safeguards to which other universities publicly committed weeks ago that you may notice are missing from our list. Most notably, contact tracing and wide-spread testing of asymptomatic individuals.
The St. Louis Health Department leads contact tracing activities, and our Employee Health and Student Health Center teams have supported and will continue to support that process. In the event the City’s contact tracers are over-extended, we will enlist our students in SLU’s College for Public Health and Social Justice who have been trained to do this work.
Leading public health authorities such as the American College Health Association and the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota have concluded that wide-spread testing of asymptomatic students provides no significant public health benefit — and diverts health care resources from more effective work. SLU’s public health advisors agree. Asymptomatic students and employees are still able to get tested if they wish. They will be referred to local testing options after contacting either the Student Health Center or Employee Health.
A brief note of thanks
Thank you again for your continued support, grace, patience and questions. Soon, you will hear more from us about the planned end-date to the fall semester, among other key topics.
As I close, I would like to ask you to join me in prayer for our Prison Program students and alumni in the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Mo. The state Department of Corrections currently reports 50 people in the prison, including staff, tested positive for COVID-19. Though we do not know whether any of our students or alumni have tested positive, we certainly know that they are vulnerable. For them, we pray.
Be safe and stay well.
Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.
Previous Updates to the SLU Community
- June 17 (Fall Planning)
- June 3 (Commencement Rescheduled)
- May 29 (Student Development Updates)
- May 29 (Reflecting on Fall Changes)
- May 26 (Earlier Start for Fall)
- May 26 (Special Circumstances Relief Application)
- May 15 (Return to Work Guidance)
- May 14 (Test-Optional Admission)
- May 12 (Fall 2020 Planning)
- May 6 (CARES Act Funding Reminder)
- May 4 (SLUCare Budget)
- May 4 (Budget Next Steps)
- April 23 (Budget)
- April 16 (Extension of Stay-at-Home Orders)
- April 14 (Summer Courses and Camps)
- April 10 (Video/The Light of SLU Shines Bright)
- April 7 (Tradition and Opportunity for this Holy Week)
- April 5 (Taking Care of Our Own)
- April 3 (Heading into the Weekend)
- April 3 (Grading Policy Changes)
- April 2 (Commencement)
- March 30
- March 27
- March 26
- March 25
- March 24
- March 23
- March 22
- March 21
- March 20
- March 19
- March 18
- March 17
- March 16 (Evening)
- March 16
- March 15
- March 14
- March 13 (Evening)
- March 13
- March 12 (Evening)
- March 12
- March 11
- March 10
- March 3
- March 3 (Parents)
- February 4
- January 30
- January 27