Nearly all of the higher education institutions in the Twin Ports area are in session for the fall semester, with classes at the College of St. Scholastica beginning Tuesday, and so far only the University of Minnesota Duluth has made last-minute changes to its reopening plan.
Referencing COVD-19 outbreaks at campuses around the nation, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel explained the system’s decision to postpone in-person instruction and move-in dates by two weeks on the Duluth, Twin Cities and Rochester campuses.
“We wanted to avoid those struggles,” Gabel said in a Minnesota State Senate meeting Tuesday. “There was, in our minds, no reason to go face first into situations that many of our peers experienced — who themselves had relied on experts, made very carefully thought through plans and yet, still were experiencing surprising levels of transmission on their campuses.”
Over the summer, higher education institutions in the region have consulted with the same public health officials as well as each other as they prepared to bring students back to campus. COVID-19 preparedness plans vary from school to school, often depending on the size of the campus as well as the state and system guidance each school falls under.
All schools are offering some of their courses in person, though face-to-face instruction at UMD won’t begin until Sept. 14, two weeks after fall classes began.
In the month of August, cases among St. Louis County residents between the ages of 20-24 years rose by 68 and cases in people between the ages of 15-19 rose by 96. Combined, those two age groups make up a third of all cases recorded.
Those of traditional college age have had the highest cases of COVID-19 locally as well as statewide in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Testing for COVID-19
Schools in the University of Wisconsin system, including the Superior campus, will screen residential students for COVID-19 every two weeks using antigen tests, which can produce results in minutes by detecting certain proteins. The university will then provide students whose tests come back positive with additional testing through St. Luke’s.
Like other smaller schools in the area, UW-Superior does not have a campus clinic. Students living off campus will be directed to their local health care provider for testing.
Through its campus clinic, the University of Minnesota Duluth will test students with COVID-19 symptoms or students who have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes.
The College of St. Scholastica’s Student Health Services will also test students who have COVID-19 symptoms.
The Minnesota Department of Health did not recommend campus-wide testing at the beginning of the semester. Instead, the state suggests reserving resources for testing symptomatic individuals and sustaining that through the year.
The community and technical colleges in the area do not have plans to offer testing on campus.
Although schools are not required to publicly report cases COVID-19, some have agreed to do so.
UMD has already launched its public COVID-19 dashboard, which shows only the number of cases detected in students who got tested on campus.
The UW system plans for its public dashboard to go live in the coming days. The dashboard will include COVID-19 campus-based data.
The College of St. Scholastica and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College do not plan to publicly report COVID-19 cases.
St. Scholastica will issue updates to the campus community on a weekly basis and WITC will send out announcements to the campus community in instances when they know of a COVID-19 case on campus that people had been exposed to.
The Minnesota State Colleges and University, which includes Lake Superior College and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, is developing a COVID-19 dashboard schools can share.
Schools can learn about COVID-19 cases affiliated with their campuses through a variety of ways: on-campus testing, a campus community member notifying the school about their diagnosis or through a contact tracer.
People who were found through contact tracing to be put at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 are required to be notified.
Monitoring for symptoms
To help the campus community monitor themselves for COVID-18 symptoms, WITC gave all students and employees thermometers to track their temperatures.
WITC, St. Scholastica and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System — LSC and FDLTCC —are all requiring their campus communities to screen themselves for symptoms everyday using an online service.
UW-Superior and UMD are not requiring any sort of formal symptom monitoring before entering a campus building.