Early start, frequent testing, and student and faculty support were critical to success
ST. LOUIS, Nov. 25, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- When Saint Louis University's fall semester classes end on Tuesday, Nov. 24, the University will have successfully completed its on-campus semester as planned and without changes in its hybrid instruction model or on-campus living.
The University decided last summer to begin classes a week early, on Aug. 17, and end classes Thanksgiving week, with final exams taking place online the week of Nov. 30.
"Our decision to end classes by Thanksgiving was driven by concerns about a second wave of COVID-19 in the late fall, which has occurred," said President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D. "But most important in SLU's successful fall semester has been the willingness of our students, faculty and staff to make essential adjustments, follow campus safeguards and care for each other."
Those safeguards included a strict policy for face masks, requirements for social distancing and group gatherings, continued remote working for all non-essential employees, cancellation of all in-person events on campus, and limited access to campus for visitors.
Another key to the fall semester's success was the decision to allow maximum flexibility for students and faculty to attend and teach classes in person or online or both. SLU also reduced housing density on campus and set aside space for approximately 150 students to isolate or quarantine on campus.
"Our faculty have done everything possible to ensure we finished the fall semester as we planned," said Interim Provost Michael Lewis, Ph.D. "In many cases that meant making adjustments during the term, including help for students who had to move from in-person to online instruction during the semester."
Testing was a major component in SLU's response to the pandemic. In August, the University tested all 3,500 residential students for COVID-19 before they moved into campus housing. In September, SLU began weekly random testing of 10% of all residential students showing no signs of infection. Nursing students administered the asymptomatic tests.
SLU also launched a rapid contact tracing program staffed by students pursuing master's degrees in public health. In the vast majority of instances, the University's contact tracing team reached all close contacts in less than one day of a positive case.
"The University transparently communicated testing results with the campus and community with our COVID-19 dashboard, which was updated twice weekly," said Terri Rebmann, Ph.D., RN., CIC, FAPIC, director of SLU's Institute for Biosecurity and special assistant to the president for pandemic response. "What our testing told us was that SLU's campus was a very safe place to be this fall."
In the last few weeks of the term -- as cases were surging locally -- SLU experienced an uptick in positive cases linked primarily to off-campus activities where students let down their guard while socializing. Despite this, SLU's overall positivity rate remained far lower than in the region or the state. There were also no reported positive cases linked to classroom or lab exposure.
"While the semester was not without its challenges, I am so proud of how our students responded to the myriad of changes to life on campus and in the classroom," said Debra Lohe, Ph.D., interim vice president for student development. "We were in conversation with student leaders throughout the semester and their insights and recommendations helped make our success possible."
SLU's spring semester will begin several weeks later than usual, on Jan. 28, and the University plans for another hybrid semester in the spring with students on-campus.
"We will use the lessons we have learned from the fall semester in our planning for the spring," Pestello said. "We know that the coronavirus will still be with us, but we will work to enhance the campus experience while doing everything possible to continue to keep our students, faculty and staff safe."
About Saint Louis University
Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 12,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University's diverse community of scholars is SLU's service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place. For more information, visit slu.edu.
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SOURCE Saint Louis University