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COVID-19 Core Team sets campus Action Level to Medium, encourages caution

On January 25, the college’s COVID-19 Core Team released the campus action level for the first time this term. The team decided on Action Level 2: Medium based on case rates on campus and in Rice County, as well as “other internal and external threshold measures.” 

These internal measures include Carleton’s 14-day confirmed infection day rate, weekly surveillance testing positivity rate, and isolation and quarantine occupancy. Although the 14-day infection rate and weekly surveillance testing positivity rate were within low action thresholds—below 1 percent and .3 percent respectively—isolation and quarantine occupancy (41 percent) and test turnaround time (greater than 24 hours) during Third Week were within the medium threshold level. 

Between January 3 and 23, 15 positive cases were recorded on campus with the average of fewer than three close contacts per case. Positive students and their close contacts, in addition to students arriving to Northfield after Second Week, were quarantined, which resulted in the high percentage of quarantine and isolation spaces in use. While test turn-around time was typically within 24 hours, some tests took longer to process, which also contributed to the Level 2 decision.

Off-campus case rates also were a factor. Rice County’s 14-day case rate between January 10 and January 23 was 50.48 cases per 10,000 residents, which falls in the critical action level range.

Vice President and Treasurer Eric Runestad, a COVID-19 Core Team member, explained why the team waited until Third Week to release the campus action level: “We waited until we had both baseline tests and the first week of surveillance testing complete before determining our action level. That, we feel, gives us the best information about both what is happening on campus (positivity rates, quarantine/isolation space, number of close contacts, etc.) and in the community.”

Level 2: Medium indicates that “due to the number of cases identified or the length of test turnaround time, confidence in the ability to accurately complete contract tracing is moderate,” according to Carleton’s COVID-19 information page.

Runestad said that “though the Core Team works collaboratively to set the action level, from my perspective, I believe we would need to see both internal and external threshold measures improve to reflect a change in the action level.”

Last term, the college restricted off-campus outings to buying necessities and attending medical appointments after a spike in positive cases on campus were connected to time spent in greater Northfield. 

This term, while students are allowed to go into Northfield, the Core Team recommends minimizing time spent off campus because of the high Rice County case rate. Unnecessary travel beyond Northfield remains prohibited. If students choose to travel, they must submit an overnight visit form to be approved by the Dean of Students office and practice “special precautions upon returning,” including quarantining for 10 days as well as taking a COVID-19 test at the student’s own expense. 

The team emphasized that despite the low infection rate on campus, the Carleton community must remain cautious and vigilant with social distancing and other transmission-minimizing behaviors.

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