Across the nation and state, COVID-19 infections are spiking as more people move indoors. Western Washington University is no exception, as we are experiencing a surge in cases. We also note concerning COVID-19 trends in Bellingham and Whatcom County.
Over the past week, Western has seen what we view as a sudden and significant increase in positive student tests, both of individuals and in the batches analyzed in our surveillance testing program. We have seen five new positive individual tests, and other positive tests among pooled testing batches.
These increases on campus and in the local community significantly impact Western’s ability to prevent transmission of the virus through testing, contact tracing, and providing isolation/quarantine spaces and services for affected students.
Based on the need to slow community transmission and avoid overwhelming campus and community healthcare services, and to prevent further spread before the holiday season, we have made the decision to instruct all faculty teaching in-person courses on the main campus in Bellingham to move to remote modality starting Thursday, Nov. 19.
During fall quarter, only a few classes have been meeting in a face-to-face format on Western's Bellingham campus; the vast majority of classes are already held remotely. Following Thanksgiving break, as previously communicated, all fall quarter classes will be offered remotely for the remainder of fall quarter.
Western students, faculty and staff in other locations including Everett, Bremerton and Poulsbo should follow local guidance at those sites.
In addition, the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room study space and other parts of the Viking Union will be closed until further notice. Study space continues to be available in Haggard Hall 101 and 102 computer labs, as well in Haggard Hall classroom 153; for more information see Western's Classes and Academics FAQ.
The University also is suspending in-person athletic practices and training, including use of the Carver Gymnasium, until further notice. Current research activities conducted under approved reopening plans may continue at this time.
I understand this creates additional burdens for our students, faculty and staff. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to worsen. Since the pandemic began earlier this year, our decisions have been driven primarily by the safety of our campus community and that focus on safety is at the forefront as we put forward these precautionary measures to reduce both campus and community spread.
Our expanded, voluntary testing program will continue at Fraser Hall on a first-come, first-served basis. Students who wish to be tested must make an appointment on the MyWesternHealth patient portal. Western’s COVID-19 testing clinic in Fraser Hall is Nov. 19 and Nov. 23 to 24, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Space is limited and students must have an appointment to be tested.
While classes will be all remote after the Thanksgiving break for the remainder of fall quarter, students who live on-campus and in the community may return to Bellingham to complete their classes online where they live, either in off-campus residences or in on-campus residence areas, which will remain open to residents throughout the holiday and winter breaks. To ensure that you’re staying healthy during the break and not bringing COVID-19 back to our community, please follow the state’s guidance for safe gatherings and make sure you avoid the three Cs: crowded places, closed spaces and close contact.
I hope you will have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving break!