BSU, NTC mask requirement for public, indoor spaces will be in place to begin Spring 2022 semester

On September 27, it was announced that our indoor face covering mandate for Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College would be extended through the end of the fall semester. The date we had identified as the end of that masking period was Friday, December 17. We are announcing today that we will begin the spring semester with the mandate still in place, and will continue to wear face coverings on campus until at least January 31, 2022. It is highly likely that the mandate will be extended beyond January 31.  As has been the case since our mandate first went into effect on August 9, this extension is being guided by COVID-19 transmission conditions in Beltrami County, which make it unlikely that we will see conditions which will allow us to lift our face covering mandate before January 31. As with our September 24 extension, a detailed explanation for how we made this decision is shared below.  The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s transmission rating for Beltrami County is monitored daily. Our COVID-19 response will continued to be guided by changes in local conditions and any revised guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota State system, CDC recommendations, and other state and federal authorities.

How we determined this extension

While there are two factors that are checked to determine a county’s transmission status, Beltrami County’s transmission rating has been driven by the number of new cases in a seven-day rolling period per 100,000 population. CDC defines Substantial spread as having 50 or more new cases per 100,000 population in the previous seven days, and High spread has having 100 or more. Minnesota State’s formula for determining when mandating face coverings in indoor, public spaces is:

  1. Face coverings are required if a school’s home county reaches Substantial spread (50 or more new cases per 100,000 population in 7 days) and remains there for 14 days, OR
  2. Face coverings are required immediately upon reaching High spread (100 or more new cases per 100,000 population in 7 days).

A face covering mandate may be lifted if a school’s home county falls to Low or Moderate spread and remains there for 14 days, and after consultation with the system office.  Beltrami County was first elevated to High transmission status on Sunday, August 7, and we have remained there each day since. Since August 7, there have been five spikes — dates where cases peaked and then began declines for a period of time — in our rate of new COVID cases per week in the county. The most recent of these spikes occurred on November 16, with 353 new cases in the previous seven days. The CDC uses 47,188 as the population for Beltrami County; 353 cases is 748.07 cases per 100,000 population. Our projections for the future are based on an assumption that our decline to Low or Moderate spread will directly mirror the rise to our peak number of cases. It also takes into account Minnesota State’s requirement that counties be at Low or Moderate spread for a period of 14 days before a face covering mandate can be lifted. These assumptions and our current COVID-19 conditions led to the following logic for extending the mandate:

  • The November 16 spike occurred 106 days after the county first reached Substantial spread.
  • Projecting a potential decreasing case rate that mirrored our 106-day rise to the November 16 spike, plus the required 14 days at Low or Moderate spread, put a potential mask-lifting date as the Friday of spring break in March of 2022.
  • However, our current decrease from the November 16 spike is happening much faster than the rise to that spike. If the decrease were a direct mirror, our case rate on December 15 (spike plus 29 days) would have been 296 new cases in the previous 7 days (which was our rate on spike minus 29 days, October 18). Instead, we’re at 148 cases — exactly half of where we expected to be.

Realistically, with health experts predicting nationwide COVID peaks due to the Omicron variant possibly beginning in January, it’s unlikely that we would be able to lift the mandate on January 31. However, given the positive current trend and knowing the level of COVID fatigue on our campuses, the decision was made to extend the mandate only through January 31 and give us another opportunity to re-evaluate conditions in the county.  If you have questions about our masking protocols or any other COVID-19-related topic, share it with us using the I Have a Question form on the Coronavirus website.