Winter Term on Campus at Carleton

10 December 2020

Dear Members of the Carleton Community,

I hope this message finds you and your families safe and healthy this December. While it has only been two weeks since the conclusion of Fall Term, everyone is understandably eager to know what awaits in Winter Term. In this letter, I want to share Carleton’s current thinking and plans.  

We intend to bring the majority of our students back to campus in the new year, subject to enhanced and more rigorous health and safety standards as detailed below. We have carefully assessed our experience this fall, including discussions with faculty and staff on the front lines of providing campus services. We have been—and will keep—monitoring external factors and modeling projections of the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  Most critically, campus planning and governance groups have sought and followed the advice of our external epidemiological and college health consultants and the Minnesota Department of Health in developing our approach to Winter Term.

The Carleton community has been exceptional this year about adhering to the Covenant and respecting the other new protocols necessitated by the pandemic. Over the course of Fall Term, we consistently recorded 14-day infection rates and surveillance test positivity rates at or below 1% (this was lower than the surrounding community and region); our testing, case investigation, and contact tracing processes were strong and thorough; our new cleaning protocols and reduced density helped limit virus transmissions; and we were very effective at moving students into and out of safe quarantine and isolation spaces. Our ability to conduct a successful term was a direct result of this collective effort—and inspires confidence that we can continue along the same good path.

Nearly 1,500 students and their families have expressed eagerness to return to campus in the winter and benefit from the best residential living-learning experience we can safely provide under the prevailing circumstances. This is what Carleton exists to do, after all. And most of our peer colleges across the country also plan to bring back students in the coming months.  Accordingly, we have concluded that we should mount another in-person term, but with heightened precautions from the very outset and a willing readiness to adapt further as needed.

Returning to Campus this Winter

Winter Term classes will begin on Monday, January 4, as planned. However, the first two weeks of classes will be held online. As in the fall, any students who wish to study remotely for the entire term may choose to do so.

We are asking students to return to campus only on Saturday, January 9, or Sunday, January 10—after the first week of remote classes—in order to avoid traveling right after the new year when airports are likely to be busiest, and also to better insulate the campus from any COVID-19 infections that may have been contracted over the holidays. During this first week of remote learning, all students should quarantine and, when possible, get tested for COVID-19 as the CDC recommends before travelling back to Northfield. Room and board fees will be prorated to account for the fact that students will be spending one less week on campus, and financial aid awards will be adjusted to reflect students’ reduced cost of attendance.

Following students’ return, the second week of classes also will be held online. From the time they arrive on campus until the first day of in-person classes on Monday, January 18, all students are expected to stay on campus, take their meals “to go,” and limit their interactions to those with whom they share living space.

Just as with the start of Fall Term, all students will be tested for COVID-19 immediately upon arrival to campus and again one week later. The first round of student tests will take place from noon to 8 p.m. on January 9 and 10 in the Recreation Center. Starting on Saturday, December 12 at 8 a.m. CT, students may use this form to sign up for a testing slot. Students will have access to their residential space after completing this initial test.

More detailed information will soon be available on the Student FAQs section of the COVID-19 website. If you are a new student who will be arriving on campus for the first time, the Division of Student Life will reach out with more information about your arrival.

As with the Fall Term, individual faculty members will continue to have the academic freedom to teach their courses in the mode (in person, online, hybrid, mixed) that makes the best pedagogical sense. For faculty and staff who are working on campus, individuals in Groups 1 (on-campus) and 2 (hybrid) will be tested on January 11 and 12, also in the Rec Center. Employees who wish to return to campus sooner may obtain an at-home test from Security Services.

Heightened Safety Measures

In addition to the various protections and public health policies already in place, we will implement further safeguards for the wellbeing of the entire community. These include:

  • Doubling our asymptomatic surveillance testing regimen to test 600 individuals per week. This represents nearly 30% of our expected on-campus population of students, faculty, and staff.
  • Achieving faster test turnaround times on tests so we can identify positive cases sooner and begin contact tracing immediately. In accordance with new testing contracts, tests will be analyzed by a lab at the University of Minnesota and results returned to us within 24 hours.
  • Increasing our supply of rapid tests to ensure we can continue to test individuals as soon as they experience COVID-19 symptoms. We saw success with this approach in the fall and will continue to prioritize this and other practices that enable our contact tracing team to work as swiftly as possible.
  • Increasing our designated quarantine and isolation space to 101 beds, with the flexibility to add even more if needed. With 90 designated spaces this fall, our peak usage came in Tenth Week when 58% of spaces were occupied. We nevertheless thought it prudent to expand our capacity further. Recent changes to CDC and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines will also increase our ability to utilize the quarantine space we have by allowing us to test quarantined students at day 7 and release them if the test is negative, and they do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Optimizing campus ventilation systems to maximize fresh air intake. We are installing the highest quality filters that the systems will tolerate and are supplementing as needed with stand-alone filtration units or other mitigation strategies.
  • Further limiting students’ travel and interactions off campus, as we did at the end of Fall Term. We want students to remain on campus as much as possible because most of the positive cases encountered this fall were contracted through off-campus exposure. Students may continue to leave campus for essential activities such as medical appointments, grocery shopping, and work responsibilities.

These changes—when combined with robust testing and quarantine upon arrival—are intended to create a “Carleton bubble” as quickly as possible, and to sustain that bubble for the duration of Winter Term. Of course, our success will also depend on the continued public health awareness and vigilance of faculty, staff, and students.

We will be offering informational meetings next week for community members who may wish to learn more details or who have questions about this plan. These sessions are as follows:

  • Faculty and Staff:  December 14 at 9 a.m.
  • Students: December 15 at 7 p.m.; December 16 at noon
  • Parents: December 15 at noon; December 16 at 7 p.m.

Details about joining these sessions will be communicated to each of these groups via email in the coming days.

As we eagerly ready to turn the page on a vexing and painful 2020, it’s humbling to also reflect on the efforts everyone has made to carry on with the essential work of teaching, learning, and scholarship while keeping our community safe. Thank you all for the creativity and devotion to our students you have shown, and the faith and trust you have reposed in one another—and in Carleton. Let’s look forward together with optimism and hope for another excellent term.

Steve Poskanzer

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