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COVID-19 Update: We Must Do Better

Nov. 5, 2020 

Dear SLU Students, 

After months of exemplary behavior, it is clear that COVID-19 fatigue has set in. Risks are being taken. And, regrettably, the consequences are exactly what we have long feared. 

You will see from today’s COVID-19 data dashboard that our positive cases have risen significantly. Most cases are related to clusters of students who let down their guard while socializing — putting themselves and our community at risk. 

These gatherings have exposed a large number of students to at least one COVID-19-infected person. Exposed students who live on campus have been moved to quarantine housing. Because the average number of close contacts linked to an infected student has jumped from what had been an average of 1 to 3 students, to now 8 to 10 students, this has required substantially more quarantine rooms.

We have had to quickly contract with nearby hotels to accommodate the sudden need for additional quarantine space. You can imagine the stress this is placing on our staff who are working long days to manage the consequences of these reckless choices.

Earlier today, a staggering 21 students were identified as positive! Our contact tracers are working late into the night to identify close contacts for this new group of infected students. 

More quarantine housing will be required.

We are at the point in the semester where we will strongly encourage any close contacts who are destined for quarantine to depart campus and quarantine back home. We recognize that some students will not be able to do this, but we cannot sustain this increased demand for on-campus quarantine housing. 

I want to emphasize that none of these cases are connected with an exposure in our classrooms or labs. All are community exposures where individuals chose not to follow our mitigation protocols. They removed their masks and sat or stood close to one another for a long period of time. This enabled an opportunistic virus to spread among the participants, putting themselves at risk and those with whom they came in contact. 

We must swiftly respond to this situation. At noon on Friday, our residence halls and apartments will implement new restrictions to protect our community’s health.

While, for obvious reasons, we will not be shutting down dining spaces inside Grand Hall and the Busch Student Center, we strongly encourage diners to eat in 15 minutes or less — and then, put their face masks back on. Eating together in close proximity for more than 15 minutes with masks off, significantly increases the risk of COVID-19 spread. 

The end of residential living and learning for the term is just over two weeks away. We are almost there. Please help us to ensure we do not have to shut down before we had planned. 

Please wear your face mask. Stay at least 6 feet away from others. Wash or sanitize your hands several times a day. Eat quickly and go socialize someplace else — wearing your face mask and maintaining social distancing. 

I ask that each of us act as responsibly as our respect for each other’s health –– and our purpose for being here together –– require. 

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.