On Campus COVID Testing Protocols 

Published:
September 14, 2021

Dear Grinnellians,

I write to you today to share more information about our current testing protocols and to provide reasons why we are focusing our efforts on diagnostic testing and treatment for symptomatic and exposed individuals. We remain steadfast in our commitment to community health and will continue to review emerging medical evidence and modify our plans in the face of an ever-changing pandemic.

Considerations for 2021–22

The 2021–22 protocol for testing is different than protocols developed during the emergence of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. That is because vaccine developments have changed circumstances significantly: 99% of students and 96% of faculty and staff have received at least a first dose of the vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, free, and provide a remarkably high degree of protection from serious illness. Our vaccine requirement combined with our current on-campus mask policy substantially reduces the risk of transmission across campus.

We now have important evidence on low rates of disease transmission in vaccinated populations that was not available previously. Evidence for all three of these elements 1) vaccination, 2) masking, and 3) transmission in vaccinated populations combine to support our decision to focus on diagnostic testing, screening, and appropriate medical care for symptomatic and exposed students.

Testing and Evidence

Just as we did last year, we continue to make our decisions based on medical evidence. Surveillance testing in a fully vaccinated population is not recommended by the CDC and as such we will continue to follow our current COVID-19 protocols. Large-scale testing programs in vaccinated populations are likely to produce incorrect (false positive) test results in a number of cases, resulting in unnecessary stress and isolation for our students and their peers. Additionally, there is no medically indicated action for asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. It is likely that asymptomatic transmission will continue to occur in some parts of the vaccinated population (commonly known as ‘breakthrough’ cases), in most cases without knowledge of the infection. Our goal is to provide a thoughtful and appropriate level of diagnostic testing and care for those who need it. We continue to actively monitor the campus health situation and will keep our campus community apprised of any major shifts in infection on campus.

This calculator is a helpful resource designed to help understand the limitations of large-scale testing. For further explanation, we refer you to the recordings of our recent town halls:

Recording from Sept. 1 Faculty and Staff Town Hall

Recording from Sept. 7 Student and Parent Town Hall

Looking Ahead

We are entering a period in which we will be shifting from the crisis pandemic environment that began in March of 2020 to an ongoing endemic environment in the coming months and years in which Covid-19 is present and managed much like the flu strains that are present and managed annually. As we do so, and in recognition of the effects of this shift within your individual experience, I urge you to seek out additional information on risk as it applies to your specific circumstances, as well as support for the continuing demands that living in a pandemic and – eventually – an endemic place. Please take time for yourself to connect with what restores and supports you among the resources of the College and beyond.

Our current policies and public health precautions on campus are essential for minimizing the impact of COVID-19 on our community. The success of these precautions is a testament to their effectiveness and our enduring care for each other that is reflective in a low COVID-19 positivity rate on campus.

We appreciate the incredible amount of concern our students, faculty, and staff have shown for each other throughout the pandemic and pledge to continue to make evidence-informed decisions that keep our community on the leading edge of COVID-19 response.

With gratitude and optimism,

Anne

Anne F. Harris
President

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