Resumption of In-Person Learning and Work on January 24
Dear WWU Community,
I realize that our abrupt pivot to two more weeks of remote learning announced on Monday, January 10 had a significant impact on planning for many of you, and the timing was certainly not optimal just as many students were traveling back to campus for what we all thought was going to be a more normal in-person quarter.
Since then, I have heard from many students and parents, and staff and faculty, expressing frustration and anger and genuinely making the case for either an online winter quarter or for immediately returning to fully in-person classes and operations. I want you to know that your concerns are important to me and to the COVID Support Team, which has been doing an incredible job staying on top of an ever-changing situation.
It is very hard for any of us, including public health experts and university leadership, to know what is coming next in this long pandemic journey. We are attempting to make the best decisions possible within the context of the vastly varying circumstances of the students, staff, and faculty within our community.
However, I am encouraged by recent news that new COVID-19 cases are decreasing rapidly across the country, with new cases falling more than 30% in places that were among the first to see a surge of the Omicron variant in December. We also know that the percentage of cases causing severe illness is much lower than it was with the Delta variant. And vaccines – particularly after a booster shot – remain extremely effective in preventing hospitalization and death.
With all of this in mind, I want to reiterate and confirm our previously stated plan to resume in-person learning and work on Monday, January 24.
Our Western community has consistently stepped up to meet the pandemic challenges, and this latest wave will require us to continue to be flexible and offer grace for anyone who is ill, has a confirmed COVID-19 exposure, has underlying health issues that put them at greater risk, or is impacted by closures of schools and other caregiving support services. Instructors and supervisors are encouraged to support students and employees who are absent, and to provide accommodations for those at greatest risk. For more detailed FAQs please visit: https://westerntoday.wwu.edu/news/jan-24-return-to-in-person-learning-qa.
Some may ask whether the three-week shift to remote learning at the start of the quarter was worth it. Over the past 10 days we have learned where the most severe cases are concentrated in our local community and our healthcare system’s ability to deal with those cases. We now know, for instance, that most of the severe cases at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham are among unvaccinated individuals over the age of 40. And, we have been able to address testing and operational challenges resulting from our student body returning to campus after a holiday break, particularly at a time when the Omicron variant was at its peak.
Finally, let me reiterate that we each have a continued role to play in preventing coronavirus transmission, including staying home when sick or symptomatic, wearing well-fitted, high-quality masks, and getting booster shots. We should also get tested when we have symptoms, recognizing that some testing locations in our region are prioritizing those with symptoms or a known exposure. We will continue to closely monitor the situation with the Omicron variant and will provide additional updates as needed.
Thank you for your continued understanding and dedication to our collective safety and well-being as we continue to navigate the Omicron wave together.