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COVID-19 Update: Testing, Contact Tracing and Other Reminders

Sept. 18, 2020

Dear members of the Saint Louis University community,  

Our colleagues and classmates in Madrid have successfully concluded their first week of on-ground classes. And here in St. Louis, we have come to the end of yet another successful week of working, studying, socializing, and worshiping together, while limiting the spread of COVID-19. For all of these things, I am grateful.  

During the moments I have the opportunity to walk around campus, I am moved by the sight of Billikens safely in community with one another –– whether they are studying on picnic tables, sharing a meal in the grass, or tossing a frisbee. Your continued adherence to the public health safeguards that make all of these things possible is recognized and appreciated by those within the SLU and greater St. Louis communities. 

Today, I write to provide a few important updates on principal topics related to COVID-19, including:

Asymptomatic COVID-19 testing 

We successfully tested approximately 350 students this week, 199 on Tuesday and the remainder on Thursday. This is in line with our plan to test 10 percent of our on-campus residents –– in addition to clusters of students as determined by our public health experts and medical advisors. Of the 199 who were tested Tuesday, two tested positive (~1 percent positivity rate). We expect to receive the results from yesterday’s group this weekend. 

This data will be added to the COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated Mondays and Thursdays. 

The test modality we are using is a saliva-based test – not the nasal swab test used during move-in. The saliva test is taking, on average, less than 10 minutes for someone to be tested. 

For those getting the saliva test, there is no quarantine requirement while awaiting results. That requirement is only for tests done for someone experiencing symptoms or is already in quarantine due to exposure to a confirmed case. 

You have heard me speak about the “many people who have contributed countless hours” to help make this semester possible. Today, I wish to give special recognition to some of those individuals –– Deborah Artman, assistant professor of nursing, and the many nursing students who have volunteered to staff our testing site. Their commitment to cura personalis in the communities in which they serve has long been known and recognized. Now, when faced with a need in our community, they have risen to the occasion, providing that same level of compassionate, holistic care for their peers, and in doing so make our weekly COVID-19 testing possible. Thank you! 

Updates to SLU’s interim face mask policy 

I want to call your attention to changes we made recently to SLU’s interim policy on face masks. Namely, the addition of a line referencing that neck gaiters and masks with exhalation valves are prohibited on SLU’s campus. 

Masks with exhalation valves 

There is consensus by researchers and the CDC that masks with exhalation valves allow respiratory droplets to escape through the valve without any filtration, thus defeating the purpose of wearing a mask. As such the CDC does not advise the use of these masks for preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

Neck gaiters 

I want to clarify that neck gaiters have always been prohibited according to our interim face mask policy, which defines a face mask to include cloth masks, bandanas, scarves or other items that allow fabric to cover the nose and mouth and tie behind the head or have ear loops. 

A recent study by Duke University created additional uncertainty about the effectiveness of neck gaiters. The authors acknowledge that more research and evaluation is necessary. For that reason, the CDC has advised caution. 

This will likely be frustrating for those who have found neck gaiters to be more comfortable and convenient than some over-ear masks. We are committed to revisiting this as more research is published. 

If you have not yet received a SLU face mask and would like one, please email your business manager if you are an employee, or if you are a student. 

Contact tracing update for students 

Our contact tracing team, led by Dr. Rachel Charney, professor of pediatric emergency medicine, continues to see great success and cooperation within our campus community when investigating potential close contacts to a COVID-19-positive student. 

As a reminder, contact tracing is not a process that can be ignored or appealed. Compliance is expected, and failure to do so could result in a conduct violation. 

The contact tracing team has undergone significant training to be in this role and is guided by an extraordinary medical doctor and faculty member. I have the utmost faith in the contact tracing team’s abilities to do their highly nuanced work with empathy, grace and urgency. And I appreciate your responsiveness and cooperation should you ever be contacted by them. 

Crises have a way of laying bare that which means the most to us. I want you to know how blessed Fran and I continue to feel to be part of this OneSLU family. 

Whom do you hold dearest? Take some time to tell them this weekend. 

As always, I welcome hearing from you. My inbox remains open.  

Stay safe and be well,

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.