Dear Western Students and Families,
I hope you and your loved ones are well and that these summer months have afforded you a time to reconnect with family and friends even while we work to keep each other safe through this ongoing pandemic.
Throughout the summer, faculty and staff have been preparing for the beginning of the new academic year and I want to bring you up to date on what students and faculty can expect as classes begin September 23. As you know, about 90 percent of our classes in fall quarter will be conducted remotely, with only a very few classes offered in person, such as applied performance classes and some hands-on labs.
While we had hoped to offer more classes in person, the alarming rise in infection rates both locally and nationally made it clear that those plans were not viable for fall if we are to keep the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and the community as our guiding principle.
Because almost all of Western’s classes will be conducted remotely this fall, we expect about 1,800 students on campus in Bellingham during the day, and about 1,300 students living on campus in residence halls. This compares to approximately 15,000 students attending classes on campus in Bellingham, and 4,000 living on campus, before the pandemic.
We are taking significant precautions for the safety of students, faculty and staff members, as well as for those in the community in which we live. Please note that detailed information on these and other health and safety precautions is available on the Fall 2020 Guide website.
Students, employees and campus visitors must wear cloth face coverings when inside any campus building or university vehicle. An exception to this rule is when an individual is in an office or a vehicle by themselves. When outdoors on campus, cloth face coverings should be worn as well, and must be worn any time safe social distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained. More information on wearing face coverings can be found here.
Everyone who lives, works or attends class on campus will need to do a daily symptom check. Daily health screenings will be available online for students at MyWesternHealth. Students will receive a nightly reminder to fill out the next day’s survey in order to be cleared to attend class, work or conduct research on campus the following day.
Students must be tested before moving into on-campus housing or attending classes on campus. Students must be tested for COVID-19 five to seven days before moving in or starting classes on campus, and they must submit their results to the Student Health Center. Students will also be tested the day they move in, before unloading their belongings.
Western will monitor the spread of COVID-19 by regularly testing all students. Western will test students who live, attend classes or conduct research or other work on campus. Because of the relatively low prevalence of COVID-19 infections in Whatcom County, currently about 1 percent, we’ll use a surveillance testing model to identify possible pockets of infected individuals. We’ll test household groups or social bubbles, such as people who live in the same on-campus housing floor or attend class together. Students can expect to be tested about once every two weeks throughout fall quarter, but we may test more frequently depending on the results and community spread. Participation in the testing program will be mandatory for students to continue to live, attend class or work on campus.
University Housing is preparing residence hall space for on-campus residents who may need to be isolated or quarantined. Any on-campus residents who have come in contact with others who test positive for COVID-19 must quarantine in order to have their health monitored and ensure the health and safety of all residents. And students who have symptoms of COVID-19 will be required to isolate. Students will stay in quarantine or isolation in residence halls for the designated period after exposure or the end of their symptoms, or until they are cleared by the Student Health Center. Residence Life staff will keep students connected through virtual community programs and events. While Western has set aside about 160 rooms for students in need of quarantine or isolation, students who live off campus who need to quarantine or isolate will need to shelter in place or return to their permanent homes if it’s safe to do so.
Working together to follow these new health and safety guidelines helps us follow our guiding principle: to safeguard the health and safety of our Western community, and the greater Bellingham community in which we live. With your cooperation by wearing face coverings, maintaining social distancing and avoiding large gatherings, we’ll also be able to continue to provide the high-quality education our students have come to expect and deserve.
Daily health screenings and surveillance testing won’t diminish my hopeful anticipation of the opportunities for life-changing learning and growth that come with every new school year, which is perhaps more important than ever in the midst of a global pandemic.
My best wishes to our students and your families as we embark upon a new academic year unlike any in the long history of this institution.