Winona State self-imposes quarantine

Winona State self-imposes quarantine

McKenna Scherer, News Editor

Winona State University launched a two-week self-imposed campus quarantine from Sept. 8 through Sept. 22.

Winona State President Scott Olson sent out an all-campus email of this alert on the morning of Sept. 8.

The email said that the quarantine was implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 but that the school was not aware of any “serious illness related to COVID-19” in the Winona State community.

However, Olson said that the university had seen an increase in asymptomatic transmission.

“Non-essential activities” were limited or paused due to the quarantine, which included moving face-to-face classes entirely online or requiring increased safety precautions in order to meet in person.

Faculty, staff and student workers began working off-site if possible.

Clubs and organizations were not allowed to have any in-person meetings or events.

The on-campus fitness center, the Integrated Wellness Center, closed Sept. 9 through the end of the quarantine.

Kryzsko Commons, which holds most on-campus dining areas, student lounge and study areas and the bookstore, remained open, as did the Krueger Library.

The Office of Enrollment Management and Student Life said the quarantine was a “necessary inconvenience,” in an email to students.

On Sept. 17, halfway through the 2-week quarantine, Winona State sent out another email to all students that said the current active COVID cases total was 125, down from 209 cases previously reported.

“We’ve been continually providing recommendations to administration since the beginning of COVID,” Health and Wellness Promotion Coordinator Katie Jensen said. “Our staff has been working around the clock to keep the information that is out there the most up-to-date as we can!”

Jensen said that she thinks Winona State will “need to be mindful” when reopening after the quarantine.

Olson sent out an all-campus email on Sept. 18, announcing a “slow, phased return” to campus activities on Sept. 22.

The Minnesota Department of Health also reported 100 positive COVID cases in Winona County on Sept. 18, which were apparently a result of a backlog of testing.

Some of the 100 positive cases reported were dated as tests done in June or “outside the infection period,” according to Winona County.

“The vast majority of the numbers reported today are old cases and do not impact our current campus status or change our plans moving forward,” Olson said in an email addressing the Winona County report.

Olson said the slow return to campus means face-to-face classes can begin again, approved in-person activities can occur on campus and several areas on campus will open again, which will increase traffic on campus.

Winona State also offered a free COVID testing event on campus, held outdoors, during quarantine on Sept. 15 and 16.

Over 2,500 tests were done during those two days, according to the Health and Wellness Promotions office.

Winona State will continue to require those coming to campus to complete a self-assessment form and report any COVID exposure or positive test results.

Winona State’s Registered Nurse, Grace Rasmussen, who also runs the Ask-a-Nurse phoneline, said that she is hopeful the 2-week quarantine and additional COVID guidelines like mask wearing and social distancing will create a safe environment.

“COVID-19 is real and is happening around us,” Rasmussen said. “The most important thing to remember is that we [staff and students] are the ones that can help to control the numbers on campus.”

Rasmussen took over for previous on-campus RN and Ask-a-Nurse provider Joyce Peckover last spring while Winona State had shut down campus due to the COVID pandemic.

She said that she does not have an exact number for how many calls the Ask-a-Nurse line has had in the last three to four weeks, but that “it has been tough to get to the calls in a time frame I would like.”

She said several other nursing practitioners on staff have jumped in to help with the phoneline.

The line is monitored Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

However, staff has been working extra hours during the evenings and on weekends to check in on the line, Rasmussen said.

“Even though a person might think it [COVID-19] is not a ‘big deal’, the person you are standing by might think it is a big deal,” Rasmussen said. “We must act out of respect to others and follow the guidelines that have been set before us.”

Jensen said that although she thinks everyone is entitled to their own opinions on COVID, it is still important to follow health recommendations.

“It’s crazy,” Jensen said. “When I was in grad school getting my Master’s in public health, we learned about disease pandemics throughout history, not realizing then that we’d all get to live through history in our own pandemic!”

The Winona State blog said that if outbreaks increased, the university will place further restrictions, which could coincide with future stay-at-home orders from the governor or Minnesota State System.

If these things occurred, all classes will move online.

Classes that require in-person elements will either not be completed until restrictions lift or the class may not be offered for the time being.

If campus shuts down as it did last spring, residence halls would be closed again, and classes moved entirely online.

The two-week quarantine has seemed to have an effect in lowering COVID transmissions and case numbers.

“It may feel like it will never end,” Jensen said. “But if we continue to be diligent in the protective behaviors we’ve all been practicing, there will be a day when we will just be telling fun stories form our time in quarantine!”