Dear Whitman community,

I hope that you all have had a restful and fulfilling summer and that you have been able to spend time with friends and family. As we prepare for the 2022-23 academic year, we acknowledge that COVID-19 will be part of our reality for the foreseeable future. Even though conditions are constantly changing, we have learned a lot about COVID-19 over the past few years, and we know that if we stay vigilant, we can really reduce the effects that the virus has in our community. We look forward to having everyone back on campus in a few short weeks and wanted to share some updates to COVID-19 policies – both short-term and long-term – that have been decided on in consultation with the cabinet, faculty leadership and our consulting epidemiologist. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, our priority is to provide the fullest possible campus experience for our students, while also protecting the health of our community and the greater Walla Walla community.

Face Mask Requirement Update

Since we were last together in May, we have been closely monitoring the COVID situation as new variants have emerged and cases have climbed again in the surrounding area and other parts of the country. For much of the summer the CDC COVID-19 Community Level rating for Walla Walla County has been “high” and has come with the recommendation for indoor masking. That rating is based on new COVID-19 hospital admissions, the percent of beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and total new cases in the county. In the past few days, the level has been lowered to “medium”. However, because of the spike in cases we saw this summer, as well as the high transmissibility of the new BA. 4 and BA. 5 variants and the still-present Omicron variant, and the large numbers of students traveling from all over the world to return to campus, we will require that face masks (N95, KN95 or KN94) be worn on campus for at least the first two weeks of class. At that time, college and faculty leadership in consultation with our epidemiologist will assess cases on campus and in the broader Walla Walla community to decide if a mask extension is necessary. 

Whitman will distribute a new batch of ten KN95 masks for all faculty, staff and students at the beginning of the fall semester. We will share distribution information as move-in day gets closer. If you wish to use your own mask, they must be N95, KN95 or KN94.

We hope to return to a mask-optional status as soon as it is safe to do so. When Whitman returns to mask-optional, individual faculty members may decide to require masks in their classes based on the classroom space and their personal health circumstances.

Guests to campus and spectators at athletic, music, theater and other larger events will be subject to the same masking requirements as the rest of the campus.

Vaccination Policy 

Whitman will continue to require all members of the community to be up to date on their covid vaccines. Exemptions will still be offered for medical and religious reasons as well as for those who wish to delay getting the booster until it is no longer under emergency use authorization. 

We will continue to require campus guests and spectators at athletic, music, theater and other larger events be up-to-date on vaccines, however, we will no longer verify vaccine status when guests enter facilities.

Testing

While not perfect, testing is still one of the best tools we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Therefore we ask that all students take an antigen or PCR test prior to returning to campus if traveling from outside the Walla Walla area. In addition, we will require that faculty, staff, and students take a COVID-19 test before attending any opening week events. Whitman will provide individual rapid antigen tests for every member of the Whitman Community to be self-administered.

We will continue to do contact tracing and testing for close contacts. Students who test positive should report their test results to the Welty Health Center (509-527-5295) immediately.  Employees should also report any positive test immediately – faculty to Provost and Dean Alzada Tipton, and staff to their supervisors and Human Resources.

Isolation

The college will continue to provide isolation housing in Marcus House for students who test positive for COVID-19 regardless of whether their regular residence is on-campus or off-campus. The length of isolation is dependent on symptoms along with the results of COVID-19 testing during isolation as outlined below.

  • Asymptomatic cases can be released with negative antigen test on day 5 or later

  • Symptomatic cases can be released with negative antigen test on day 7 or later

  • Release from isolation after day 8 if symptoms have improved without testing and continue to mask until day 10.

These isolation timelines are slightly longer than the CDC isolation recommendations, due to the dense living and learning environment present on a residential college campus and the high number of people interacting on campus daily.

Employees needing to isolate should contact their supervisor and Human Resources to discuss remote work and/or sick leave options. Faculty in isolation may teach online if they feel well enough to do so.

Building Access

Just like last semester we will unlock many campus buildings and reopen them to people from the extended Whitman community who have Whitman IDs (such as local alumni, retirees and employee family members) as well as the general population. Most academic buildings will be unlocked at the cardswipe entrances Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays. Swipe card access outside of these hours will remain available to Whitman students, faculty and staff from 7–7:30 a.m. and until 10 p.m. weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Campus administrative buildings will be unlocked at the cardswipe entrances Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Other building doors that do not open via cardswipe will remain locked, but we are working to expand the number of card access doors as possible. You can see the complete list of building hours at whitman.edu.

We will continue posting signs at building entrances indicating that all visitors must be up to date on their vaccines, however, we will not ask for verification or proof of vaccination when entering buildings.

All physical barriers such as plexiglass dividers that were installed earlier in the pandemic will be removed from buildings. Departments can request to keep their physical barriers in place by contacting Facilities at 509-527-5999.

Dining

Cleveland Commons, Jewett Cafe and Reid Cafe will open for in-person dining. Students may choose to order their food “to-go” to eat outside, in their rooms, or other private spaces where they can safely remove their masks during the first few weeks on campus. Students also may choose to use the Bon Appetit mobile app to order ahead for to-go meals.

We ask that faculty and staff do not use campus dining services in-person for the first two weeks and to avoid peak dining hours throughout the semester (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Faculty and staff are welcome to use the Bon Appetit mobile app for take-out the first weeks of the semester.

Other Health Expectations

In a few months, we will also be dealing with flu season. While the steps we take to prevent COVID-19 will also help reduce the risk of catching the flu, we strongly encourage you to be vaccinated against influenza once vaccines become available. The Welty Student Health Center will hold a flu vaccine clinic for students, likely in October. Any leftover vaccines will be made available to employees. We will send further details when we have confirmation of the dates. 

As we continue to deal with the effects of COVID-19 on campus, we are also closely tracking cases of monkeypox that are emerging across the United States and here in Washington.  While we do not believe there is a reason to further change campus protocol in response at this time, our consulting epidemiologist is working on guidance for isolation, cleaning, and disinfection protocol should someone on campus test positive. As we regularly revisit COVID-19 protocols, we will do the same with monkeypox and reassess if more action is needed.

As a reminder you can access the complete list of our Fall 2022 COVID-19 protocols on Whitman’s website at any time and track positive COVID cases on our COVID-19 dashboard once the semester begins. We are looking forward to welcoming everyone back to campus for the fall semester. We are encouraged by each small move toward the return to our pre-pandemic lives.  Have a safe few weeks and I will be in touch with more information as we get closer to move-in day.

Best,

Peter Harvey
Chair, Coronavirus Task Force