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December 12, 2022: COVID-19 Update

Dear members of the Whitman community,

I hope the end of the semester is going well for all of you. I am writing today with a COVID-19 update to share some minor policy changes that have been decided on in consultation with the cabinet, faculty leadership and our consulting epidemiologist.

Although we saw a few positive cases following the Thanksgiving break, the numbers were well below the numbers we were seeing during most of September and October. (Weekly counts are available on the COVID dashboard webpage.) In light of this positive trend and the availability of the bivalent booster to help protect the campus community, we will make three new adjustments to our campus protocols.

First, we will remove campus signage stating that vaccination is required to enter buildings. The signs will be removed at the end of the Fall semester to support our efforts to slowly welcome more people from the community back onto campus.

Second, we will not be asking everyone to take a COVID-19 test before returning to campus in January. Instead, we encourage each of you to pay close attention to your health and, as recommended by the CDC, test whenever you experience any symptoms that might be COVID-19. Some types of travel do carry a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission so please consider taking extra precautions if you are traveling via public transportation and monitor symptoms closely upon return to campus. We continue to offer free symptomatic testing at the Health Center.

Finally, we will allow the return of a limited number of overnight campus guests related to student recruitment efforts. This is not likely to happen often during Spring semester, but Admissions will be given the flexibility to offer that option upon request.

Since the return from break, some members of our campus community have resumed wearing masks while indoors. Masks continue to be an effective way to prevent the spread of not only COVID-19, but the other illnesses that are common this time of year. Anyone who wants to continue wearing a mask is encouraged to do so and we will continue to provide them on request. Masks may be required by faculty in some classes or by staff in their office areas. It’s a good idea to carry a mask with you in case you are asked to wear one.

This week is also National Influenza Vaccination Week, a reminder that a harsher-than-average season of influenza is upon us. In fact, Inside Higher Ed reported in an article this week (“ Flu Returns to Campus With a Vengeance”) that many colleges and universities are seeing an early and intense flu season, and that hospitalizations for influenza are 40 times higher this year in the US than at the same time last year. We encourage you to get a flu shot if you have not done so already. We already distributed our on-campus supply, but flu shots are available at most pharmacies, and often at no cost to you.

I also want to remind you that Whitman continues to require students, faculty and staff to stay up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, as defined by the CDC. If you have not done so already, please make a plan to receive the new booster by December 31. (Click here to check local availability.)

Once you have received the most recent booster, please fill out the COVID-19 Bivalent Booster Attestation Form. If you already have an exemption or have reason to request a new exemption, the form will handle those responses as well. Documentation is not required at this time, but we do expect everyone to fill out the form, and if you have not filled out the form, you can expect to start receiving email reminders until you do.

Wishing you all a strong finish to 2022 and a healthy new year!

Peter Harvey
Chair, Coronavirus Task Force

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