MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Students go back to class at St. Olaf College on Thursday. School there is starting three weeks early. But their first order of business: getting tested for COVID-19.

The start of school looks and feels different on the St. Olaf campus. Roommates Maya Patty and Selena Rodriguez moved into their dorm over the weekend.

“Within 24 hours of getting to campus you had to get tested for COVID. Within that first couple of days until you get your negative result back, you’re quarantined to your room,” Patty said.

They can go to the dining hall for meals, at assigned times, while wearing a mask. Otherwise it’s a lot of time together in a cramped room.

“We had to bunk our beds and we’re making as much space as we can,” Patty said.

“We’re able to keep ourselves entertained pretty well, TV, reading, working out,” Rodriguez said.

No one can leave campus until everyone has had two COVID-19 tests. So classes will be online for the first two weeks. Then they move to a hybrid model. Ninety-percent of roughly 3,000 students decided to come back and learn on campus, including Dagmawe Haileslassie.

“It’s nice to be able to try it out and see if everything is a safe environment to be in,” Haileslassie said.

The junior is in a pod that has four rooms with eight people and a common area. He calls the overall situation challenging, but says so far things are going well.

“There are one-way routes for crowded corridors to avoid people from being at a certain corridor,” Haileslassie said.

The students say the precautions are worth doing to be on campus.

“I think everyone’s willing to do what needs to be done in order to keep everyone safe,” Rodriguez said.

In-person classes at St. Olaf are scheduled to start on Sept. 3, with some online components.

Here’s more information on the college’s COVID plan and the campus updates on testing and positive cases.

Jennifer Mayerle