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COVID-19 Update: Public Health Safeguards for the Fall

June 29, 2020

Dear members of our Saint Louis University community,

In recent emails, we have described many of the public health safeguards that we are either considering deploying or have already implemented as we approach the early start to our fall term. Successfully minimizing further spread is predicated on our commitment to actively practice these critical health measures.

Of course, we all would prefer to not have to maintain 6-feet of physical distance or manage fogged-up glasses because of a face mask. But our individual choices will have a collective impact. Whether that impact is for good or for ill is up to us.

We know COVID-19 has disparate effects across populations of different races, ages and health statuses. Members of our communities are affected by combinations of these risk factors. These safety measures help protect our colleagues, friends and neighbors. In that spirit, I implore you to join me in committing to these safeguards: 

Community is the “greater good” which our motto aims to achieve. Each of us must keep this shared value at the forefront of our hearts and minds. We are Billikens for and with others. We are OneSLU.

In the days ahead, students will receive two critical emails: 

  1. Students who expect to live on campus this fall will hear from the Division of Student Development about how we plan to approach housing. Students who need an exemption from on-campus housing will have an opportunity to submit a request. 
  2. All students will receive a communication from the Office of the Provost.  It will include a survey gauging their intent to attend in-person classes, or whether they should, or prefer to, attend classes remotely.

We understand that international travel, health risks from existing conditions, and a variety of other circumstances, might lead some students to decide remote learning is best for the fall. We understand, and we want to support our student Billikens through that decision.

Before the survey, however, I feel it is important for students and families to hear from me about the public health measures we expect to be adopted this fall. This will allow them to make the best and most informed decision about housing and instruction options.

As I have stressed in previous messages, we can’t predict the trajectory of this virus or the amount of local spread. We do not know whether the City of St. Louis will issue additional guidance that permits more relaxed public health behaviors – or how our policies at SLU may or may not change in response. We have to proceed with what we know right now and will adjust as circumstances dictate.

The following safeguards were recommended by the COVID-19 Recovery Working Group. This group includes faculty, staff and students, as well as University public health experts. These safeguards have been deemed the most essential to protect the health of all members of our University community and are based on the best information available to us at this time. Some of these safeguards have already been put in place this summer for those who must be on campus.

This fall we will implement (or continue if already in place):

While these public health practices are required of each of us on campus, we understand much of a student’s or employee’s life happens elsewhere. I implore each of you to follow these safeguards off campus as well. 

We will create an on-campus environment where our new normal includes social distancing, and we will explore ways to foster social dynamism while promoting safe, responsible action. More information on these opportunities is forthcoming, and I would encourage students to begin brainstorming now with friends, organization members and classmates on ways they can still achieve their social goals while honoring OneSLU and protecting the greater St. Louis community.

Other safeguards we are not implementing at this time

 There are a few safeguards to which other universities publicly committed weeks ago that you may notice are missing from our list. Most notably, contact tracing and wide-spread testing of asymptomatic individuals.


The St. Louis Health Department leads contact tracing activities, and our Employee Health and Student Health Center teams have supported and will continue to support that process. In the event the City’s contact tracers are over-extended, we will enlist our students in SLU’s College for Public Health and Social Justice who have been trained to do this work.

Leading public health authorities such as the American College Health Association and the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota have concluded that wide-spread testing of asymptomatic students provides no significant public health benefit — and diverts health care resources from more effective work. SLU’s public health advisors agree. Asymptomatic students and employees are still able to get tested if they wish. They will be referred to local testing options after contacting either the Student Health Center or Employee Health.


A brief note of thanks


Thank you again for your continued support, grace, patience and questions. Soon, you will hear more from us about the planned end-date to the fall semester, among other key topics.


As I close, I would like to ask you to join me in prayer for our Prison Program students and alumni in the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Mo. The state Department of Corrections currently reports 50 people in the prison, including staff, tested positive for COVID-19. Though we do not know whether any of our students or alumni have tested positive, we certainly know that they are vulnerable. For them, we pray.


Be safe and stay well.

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.

Previous Updates to the SLU Community