End of the fall semester brings new changes: Updates to COVID-19 guidelines and January and Springs courses hope to help Gusties stay safe

With the end of fall semester approaching and COVID-19 cases increasing nationwide, Gusties are facing new changes. On Nov. 6, President Bergman announced that campus would be implementing a “Lay Low” plan to limit the number of COVID-19 cases on campus. On Friday, Nov. 13, a mass COVID-19 testing will be held for all students on campus.
The Lay Low plan was developed using information from campus case investigations to identify situations in which transmission of COVID-19 was high, such as in social gatherings, study groups and between roommates.
“We found that activities that are structured and have a faculty/staff member present are at a low risk…we prioritized academic-related activities and other structured activities with faculty/staff present to continue,” Senior Director of Institutional Events in Marketing and Communication Barb Larson Taylor said.
In the future, the Lay Low plan will be utilized when large groups of students are returning to campus and whenever there is a substantial rise in positive cases on campus.
The number of COVID-19 cases is rising in the U.S., and the upcoming holiday season is expected to increase disease transmission. The mass testing event on Friday, Nov. 13 is designed to catch any previously unknown cases of COVID-19 and further ensure the health and safety of everyone on campus.
“The Minnesota Department of Health recently told colleges that they should strongly encourage all students to be tested if they plan to leave campus for Thanksgiving…MDH is working with several colleges across the state to have similar events. We are pleased to be working closely with MDS and Nicollet County Public Health to offer this on campus,” Larson Taylor said.
Testing is only available to Gustavus students and employees, and will be held in Lund Forum, where there will be enough room to keep everyone socially distanced while testing. The test itself will be a saliva test, in which participants have their saliva tested after spitting into a vial.
“We believe the response will be high because it is free and convenient. We hope to test between 1000-2000 people at this event. MDH told us that…we should expect around a ten percent positivity rate. The good news is that we will be discovering many people who are positive who may not have tested positive. The challenge is that this will be a large group to manage, so we are working to be ready for the influx of cases,” Larson Taylor said.
Gustavus currently has 2,450 students enrolled meaning the college currently has plans to test over half of the student population.
Anyone who tests positive will fill out a COVID-19 self-report form. They will then be contacted by an assigned case manager, who will help them with the transition to isolation, either on campus or off campus in a safe location. Contact tracing will then be conducted, and anyone who had close contact with someone who tested positive will be notified and moved into quarantine.
Spring semester will look very similar to fall semester as far as the implementation of COVID-19 protocols and options regarding learning plans.
This week, students are beginning to register for J-term courses and planning for spring semester. Planning for J-term typically begins in the spring, but once COVID-19 hit, course proposals had to wait until September.
This will be the first J-term to include courses that can fulfill GenEd, major and minor requirements, in addition to the typical J-term courses. With this new curriculum, J-term courses will count towards total credits for graduation for first-years and new transfer students.
“In the past, faculty were specifically discouraged from having regular major courses and GenEd courses during J-term…We have heard the message loud and clear that students really value the opportunity to take GenEd courses during J-term…we’re going to continue to work with departments to think about things that majors might want to do during this interim period,” Associate Provost and Dean of Sciences and Education in Provost’s Office and Environmental Studies, and Professor in Environmental Studies Valerie Banschbach said.
This new system was approved by faculty and finalized last year, and implementation of the program began in the spring.
“Part of [this decision] was to provide added value for students. If you’re going to be studying during an interim period…it would be great if you could fulfill as many requirements as possible during that time, and make progress towards your degree,” Banschbach said.
With COVID-19 social distancing rules in mind, the number of students who could be in each class were set ten to thirty percent lower than they normally would be. As soon as registration began on Nov. 8, spots quickly began to fill up.
“We had a phenomenon where people took seats for classes because they were worried, so they signed up for the one they wanted and then for five or six waitlists. We started working last night to address that issue…since last night, I think we’ve probably added about 200 seats,” Banschbach said.
To solve this problem created by COVID-19, students were emailed about the NDL-099 course, which acts as a placeholder if the course a student is interested in is filled. Students who signed up for this placeholder will be contacted and hopefully receive help registering for their preferred course.
“I understand that it stresses people out to show up and not find a spot, but we are working hard and we will make sure everybody gets a spot…students will not fail to graduate because they didn’t get this J-term. We are not abandoning people,” Banschbach said.
Students who decide to remain on campus to take a J-term course will not see any change to their tuition. A variety of online, hybrid and in-person J-term courses are being offered to best accommodate students’ desired living and learning plan during the global COVID-19 pandemic.