Dear Whitman community,

This has been another week of cautious optimism as we consider the ongoing impact of COVID-19 at Whitman. The number of positive cases on campus has gone down again this week, with 10 total cases reported so far. The continued decrease encourages us that our community is being responsible and safe in following our campus measures to prevent transmission of the highly contagious omicron variant.

While we’re clearly not out of the woods yet and expect that we will continue to see new cases, the Cabinet and elected faculty leadership, with input from our consulting epidemiologist, feel comfortable removing a few more of the temporary measures we enacted at the beginning of the semester. Therefore, starting today:

  • Registered student club and organization programming as well as department and committee meetings may allow food and beverages at their events, although participants must remain masked whenever not actively eating or drinking.
  • In-person dining at Cleveland, Jewett Cafe and Reid Market will be open to employees, although we ask that they avoid eating in these places during the lunch rush hour (11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.).

For the time being, the following temporary protocols will remain in place as we continue to evaluate how conditions evolve:

  • Whitman students may begin volunteering in off-campus locations if the volunteer activity takes place outdoors or if all people the volunteer interacts with during the volunteer activity are masked.
  • Social gatherings both on-campus and off-campus must remain limited to five people, all masked, in order to minimize the risk of transmission in the household or informal types of situations where the virus is most likely to spread.
  • Everyone on campus must continue to wear N95/KN95/KF94 masks.

We know there are many questions arising as Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee announced earlier this week that he is considering the future of the current statewide indoor mask mandate. While we know people are anxious to understand how masking will be implemented at Whitman throughout the spring semester, we simply don’t yet have enough information to make any specific plans. There is no single factor that will make it the “right” time to unmask, but once we know what changes will be made on the state level and how conditions continue evolving on campus, we will be better positioned to evaluate the future of masking at Whitman. Any changes to the campus masking policy will be communicated to you as soon as they are made.

Whatever happens with masks on campus and statewide, we know that being up-to-date on the COVID-19 vaccine provides significant, long-lasting protection against serious illness and death. The Whitman community has a high rate of people who have already received the booster (91%) and to improve access for our students, faculty and staff who have recently become eligible for the booster, we will be holding an on-campus clinic with the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health from 2 to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, February 23 at Cordiner. Students, staff and faculty wishing to receive the booster at this clinic should sign up online using this link.

I was pleased that, for the first time so far this semester, we had no new cases of COVID-19 reported in this morning’s issue of Whitman Today. While I know that one day does not constitute a statistically significant trend, I appreciate instances like this as a small reminder that our community is caring for each other and that this pandemic will come to an end eventually. This Friday, I hope that you will also see this as a sign of hope during these difficult and sometimes frustrating times. .

Best,
Peter


Peter Harvey
Chair, Coronavirus Task Force