New Structure for COVID Support and Coordination

As an institution we are still in an evolving state of operations due to COVID. Washington state continues to operate under an Emergency Declaration from Governor Inslee, along with a variety of guidance documents and proclamations that dictate how we operate as an institution given the various services and programs that we offer to our students and to a broader public.

With each change from federal, state, and/or local authorities, we know that you have questions about how we will proceed at Western. And with each announcement we ask for your grace and patience in digging through the details and offering new guidance to our campus community. We know that changes will be forthcoming, and we will work through those changes as quickly as possible.

In March 2020, the decision was made to send much of our workforce home to work remotely. The process of bringing that same group of people back is far more challenging from a logistical perspective. Institutionally, it is time to take the summer months to start opening, to begin bringing more people back to campus, and testing the re-entry to campus to figure out what works and what we may not have fully thought about or prepared for.

With that in mind, here are some current updates for you and areas of consideration:

  • Vaccinations: Vaccines are readily available, and Governor Inslee indicated a lifting of restrictions on June 30th, when it is forecasted that at least 70% of the state’s population 16 years and older will have had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. President Randhawa has declared a COVID-19 vaccination mandate to be fully implemented starting fall of 2021, which has made it possible to increase in-person instruction and classroom occupancy as well as increased occupancy in our housing system.  We need to continue to find ways to support and provide vaccines to our employees and students who have not yet been vaccinated and to encourage more members of our campus community, both students and employees, to get fully vaccinated.
  • Managing COVID Response: For the better part of 16 months, Western has been reactive in managing our response to this pandemic which was a natural response given the nature of this pandemic. But now COVID has become a more natural part of our operations. As an institution, it is time to make a change in how we manage this situation to reflect where we are now and how we continue to manage, support, and coordinate our efforts as we resume operations later in the summer and throughout the next academic year. This work will need to move back into departments with supervisors/directors taking the lead in how this re-entry occurs. There is a lot of support to assist with this, but ultimately each area is going to need to evaluate their operations and consult up through their divisions. This is evaluative work that we have never had to do before, and it is going to require consultation and discussion at multiple levels to ensure we are meeting both the mission of the institution to serve students and employee needs. Guidance has been sent to Vice Presidents and Deans for leading this process. You can anticipate learning more from your respective leaders.

New Structure for COVID Support and Coordination

As we move into the summer and fall terms, we are downsizing from what has been the previous Incident Management System (IMS) structure and eliminating much of the Incident Command System (ICS) language that we have been guided by from a FEMA perspective over the last 16 months. Moving forward, effective July 1st, there will be two COVID Support Managers to lead the support and coordination efforts, Dr. Holly Diaz and Adam Lorio. Three primary groups will meet regularly as part of the support and coordination efforts:

  1. Leadership group consisting of Vice President, Vice President Designees, and Deans
  2. COVID Support and Coordination Team with representatives from across the institution
  3. Communications Team led by Paul Cocke with cross-institution representation

There will be several smaller groups and/or committees called together as needed to address specific COVID support topics. In addition, the COVID Support Managers will be proactively reaching out to individuals or groups that might benefit from additional support related to COVID.

COVID related questions should be directed to Holly Diaz and Adam Lorio via covidsupport@wwu.edu.

 

The Current State of COVID Guidance at WWU

As everyone knows, the landscape regarding COVID is constantly changing. We anticipate that in the next few weeks we will hear of even more significant changes with Governor Inslee’s anticipated state opening of June 30th. In addition, there is guidance at the national, state, county and institutional level that is sometimes confusing. This section is to provide some clarification on issues as they currently stand.

Mitigation Strategies:  Masks, Social Distancing and Hand Washing

Although we anticipate some revisions to the campus mask requirements as vaccination rates increase, as of today masks are still required in all Western buildings unless you are in an office by yourself. If you are outdoors you do not need to wear a mask assuming you can maintain six feet distance from another person who is not also fully vaccinated.  In general, if you are on campus, please continue to exercise social distancing as a mitigation strategy as well as hand washing.  Should masks at some time no longer be required, individuals may choose to wear a mask based on personal safety preferences, needs and personal comfort.

COVID Vaccination Mandate

As announced by President Randhawa on May 5th, Western will require proof of COVID Vaccine status for all employees and students beginning in Fall 2021.  Policy and procedure updates for operations across Western are being worked on to support the vaccine requirement.

COVID-19 vaccinations continue to be the most successful mitigation strategy to fight this virus. COVID-19 vaccination is the leading prevention strategy to fight this virus and return to some semblance of normality. COVID-19 vaccines have been proven safe and effective in clinical trials and under real world conditions. Fully vaccinated people are at low risk of symptomatic or severe infection, and a growing body of evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection or transmit the virus that causes COVID-19 to others. Detailed information on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines is available in this CDC Science Brief.

For those who are able, we highly encourage you to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

On-campus vaccine clinics have finished for spring term, but there are many other options for getting the vaccine in Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Best resources to find vaccine clinics over the summer:

https://prepmod.doh.wa.gov/

https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/

https://www.vaccines.gov/search/

 

Policy and procedure information regarding the COVID Vaccine requirement announced by President Randhawa starting fall of 2021 will be shared as soon as details are available.  Updates will be shared via Western email and other regular communication channels (Western Today, etc.).

Currently, voluntary reporting of vaccination status for employees helps us update guidance and procedures.  Human Resources would really appreciate if you would report your vaccination status to them by uploading a picture of your vaccination card and filling out the Vaccination Submission Form: https://esign.wwu.edu/admcs/forms/HR/_fe_vaccination_submission_1.asp.

Returning to Campus

To support the specific needs of divisions and colleges, Vice Presidents and Deans will be identifying on-campus work needs and establishing guidelines and expectations for their respective areas. For a variety of professional and personal reasons, not everyone will be returning to campus as some employees will continue to work remotely or in a hybrid model. Those that will be returning to campus will not all be returning at once. Campus leaders will take into consideration institutional needs and logistics to determine who returns and when.

Building Preparations

Cleaning and Disinfecting. The CDC has modified its guidance based on its updated data about the spread of the virus.  Custodians will implement a winter flu protocol in classrooms, public spaces, breakrooms, etc. for the entire year, cleaning plus disinfecting daily.

Building ventilation. Beginning in the summer of 2020 and continuing through today, Facilities Management (FM) modified its operations to comply with the most current American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ (ASHRAE) recommendations for maintaining healthy buildings during the pandemic, including maximizing fresh air intake, minimizing cross-flow of air in occupied spaces, and optimizing system filtration to the greatest extent possible. FM also is flushing buildings with outside air during non-occupied hours to provide the cleanest possible indoor air quality for daily operations.

Anticipated Changes

Among changes we are anticipating as the state opens up is the elimination of the WACOM (attestation) system and site supervisors. The individuals who serve in the site supervisor role have played a pivotal role in keeping our community safe over the past 16 months. As more people return to campus, it will be far too difficult for site supervisors to continue this work. Instead, all supervisors will be responsible for managing employees and their respective areas. When these changes are implemented, site supervisors will be contacted directly, and the campus will be informed. Please remember if you have a COVID related question, Holly and Adam are happy to help. You can reach them by email at covidsupport@wwu.edu.

Conclusion

Each and every member of our campus community deserves recognition for navigating such a challenging year. We all should be proud at how low our COVID positive numbers have been. This is a direct correlation to everyone’s commitment to the safety of our campus and a positive living and learning experience for our students. Thank you for your adaptability, innovation and understanding.

 

Rich Van Den Hul
Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs
Incident Management Commander

Tuesday, June 15, 2021 - 2:31pm

Event Date