Unfortunate timing, a fast-moving virus and the return to class

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Dear WWU Students,

The decision to continue remote classes until January 24 has generated frustration, disappointment, and anger from many of you, even as it has created relief for others. We recognize the broad range of feelings and impacts which follow this change of plans, and we are truly sorry that timing and an unprecedented fast-moving virus variant have conspired to upend plans for so many of you—and for the faculty and staff who want to provide you with a safe and healthy learning environment.

Returning safely to in-person classes has been our goal for almost 24 months. As we planned for Winter Quarter, the decline in cases of the Delta variant and the high rates of vaccination gave us hope that we’d finally gotten to that point. Omicron made most of those plans obsolete in a matter of days.

Omicron is significantly more infectious than earlier variants, and while it is generally also less severe for vaccinated and boosted people, it can and does still make some people very sick. Over one recent weekend, the county case rate increased by 48%. Our own positive testing rate went from a two-year high of just 3% to 20%, again in a matter of days. Infection rates, serious illness, and deaths have skyrocketed in the state, in Whatcom County, and in Bellingham.

Another issue many of you have raised is the deadline for tuition refunds, and the very brief interval you had to make decisions about changing your registration. State law sets the timeline for refunds for all public universities, and unfortunately, we do not have flexibility to alter that six-day timeline, even in an emergency. For some students who have not attended or participated in class since Monday, Jan 10 and who intended to drop all classes for the full refund, a Dean's Withdrawal may be available.  There will be verification that participation and attendance ended no later than Monday. Students may contact the Office of Student Life at student.life@wwu.edu for information about the Dean's Withdrawal process.

It is tempting to assume that our high vaccination rate and the generally less severe profile of Omicron, especially for young otherwise healthy people, could allow us to continue our on-campus activities without much change. But when our local hospital is at 115% of capacity, we are all in danger. An accident, or other serious illness that isn’t COVID, could result in tragic consequences for our students, our employees, and our community. Our goal throughout the pandemic has been to protect the health and wellbeing of our whole community, and in order to do that, we have had to make the difficult decision to pause many in-person activities.

We’ll continue to implement safety procedures in the dining halls, in the Rec Center, and in the Viking Union for students living on campus, but we will not completely close them down. At the same time, we ask that students limit their in-person activities as much as possible over the remainder of the two-week period and return temporarily to virtual meetings and events.

I know this is yet another frustrating moment in a two-year span of frustrations.  The actions we take now, however, will support the greater good, and help us return to in-person classes and activities as a healthier and safer community.


Melynda Huskey
WWU Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services