by WSU President Scott R. Olson
As happens every year at this time, there’s been a huge in-migration of people to the Winona area. About 7,000 additional residents show up all at once in the form of college students attending Winona State University. This influx serves to fuel the energy and economy of our local community, but this year it also fuels legitimate concerns that the coronavirus will spread more broadly and rapidly in Winona. This could affect the ability of businesses and schools to stay open, so citizens are right to be concerned. How can they stay informed?
Winona State University is providing two different measures that might be of interest to the local community. One is a tab that is easily spotted at our homepage (winona.edu). This tab indicates a “stress level” ranging from green (Level 1), which means there is little stress on our system, to red (Level 4), which indicates the need to move all of our functions online. WSU is currently at yellow (Level 2).
Our local “stress level” is determined through a formula applied to all Minnesota State colleges and universities, measuring the extent of COVID infection on campus against our capacity for isolation and quarantine. As you may be aware, we have set aside numerous rooms on campus that can be safely used to isolate infected students. The closer we get to the maximum capacity of those rooms, the higher our stress level.
A second set of local coronavirus measurements is available on the WSU COVID Dashboard (wsu.mn/covid-dashboard). The Dashboard provides at-a-glance measures of how many students have confirmed cases, how many are quarantined, and how many are isolating on- and off-campus. In addition to these two sets of measures, WSU is making lots of information available to the community, including media coverage in print and on the radio, websites, and hosting open forums for the community. We will continue to make data available to the public at our COVID-19 website (winona.edu/covid).
I’m proud to report that WSU’s student leaders are in tune with community concerns. Last week, the WSU Student Senate voted to ask the city to further restrict access to bars. Whether or not such a change would be effective at controlling the spread of COVID-19, it nevertheless reflects a seriousness on the part of students, and a desire to do their part in helping keep Winona safe. Other student leaders have participated in our social media campaign by being good role models.
WSU is following all guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health. Masks are required inside campus buildings, and outside when physical distancing isn’t possible. Testing stations have been set up across campus. More than half of our courses were put online. We canceled fall sports and other large-scale events. Our residence halls are mostly single occupancy. We left the Tau Center open as an isolation and quarantine building. Most buildings have designated entrances and exits, and most hallways are one-way only.
Thank you for all that you’re doing to help keep Winona safe. Just as our student leaders have done, please model good behavior for our students by following state and local guidelines regarding mask-wearing and physical distancing. If you see students not wearing masks or physical distancing, and if it feels comfortable for you to do so, please feel free to ask them politely to do what’s right. And if you have any questions or concerns, please contact our community liaison Kendra Weber at 507-457-2949. We want to join together with you to keep our campus — and our community — as safe as possible.
Scott R. Olson is Winona State University’s 15th president.