Dear Whitman community,

As the majority of our students return to campus over the next few days, I wanted to provide you with as brief as possible of an update on changes to the Spring 2022 COVID-19 Protocols as well as reminders of the items you need to complete to help make our return to in-person learning as safe as possible.

Symptomatic Testing Timing Change

As the Omicron variant becomes dominant, research suggests that the infectious period typically begins following the development of symptoms, which is a change from earlier variants. To ensure a more accurate testing protocol, our consulting epidemiologist recommends that anyone with symptoms quarantine in their residence (unless fully masked and picking up meals from a dining hall) and be tested 24 hours after the onset of symptoms. If the first test is negative, students will be asked to continue to self-isolate and retest 24 hours later.

We realize that it can be difficult to wait to test if you have symptoms, but evidence is that premature testing in the early hours of symptom onset can lead to a negative test result. If you have symptoms and the resulting 24 hour quarantine while waiting to test means you will miss class, please contact your professors and follow the process for requesting an excused absence.

Updated Isolation Protocols

While we continue to wait for official instruction for higher education institutions from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), we are implementing new isolation protocols that are closer to the CDC guidance for the general public and the DOH guidance for K-12 schools. 

The new isolation protocol is: 

  • If someone tests positive but has no symptoms, they should isolate for five days and then be tested again. If they get a negative test on day five they are released from isolation. If the test is positive, they will remain in isolation for a full 10 days. 
  • If someone has a positive test and has symptoms, they will isolate for seven days and then test again. If that test is negative and their symptoms are improving or gone, they can leave isolation; if the test is positive or their symptoms have not improved, then they must stay in isolation for 10 days.

N95 or Equivalent Mask Requirement

As you saw in Whitman Today, the N95 masks Whitman is providing to all our faculty, staff and students are now available to pick up in Cordiner during the hours baseline testing is open (see below). If you do not wish to use these masks or would like additional masks, you may use your personal N95, KN95 or KF94 to comply with our campus mask requirement. No cloth masks, surgical masks or other types of masks are approved for campus use at the start of the semester. 

Return to Campus Requirements

Make sure that you are on track to complete the return to campus requirements:

  1. Pre-return testing for students: all students must take a COVID-19 test 24 to 72 hours before beginning travel to Walla Walla and complete the Spring 2022 Pre-Arrival COVID Test form by January 15, 2022. An at-home rapid antigen test is an acceptable method of fulfilling this requirement.
  2. Provide proof of COVID-19 Booster: every eligible member of the Whitman community is required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine booster or have an approved exemption by January 15, 2022. Find a location to receive the COVID-19 booster in Walla Walla.
    1. If you already received the booster, fill out the COVID-19 Vaccination Booster - Completed form.
    2. If you are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine booster fill out the COVID-19 Vaccination Booster - Pending form
    3. If you already have a medical or religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine, you do not need to do anything. You will be granted a corresponding exemption to the booster requirement.
    4. If you wish to apply for an exemption due to the booster’s emergency use authorization (EUA) status, you should submit a letter to the COVID-19 Vaccination Exemption form.
  3. Baseline COVID-19 Testing: Every staff, faculty, student, retiree and volunteer with campus access must be tested twice during the baseline testing period, preferably as soon as possible after returning to campus/Walla Walla with a second test 5–10 days later. All baseline testing will take place at Cordiner from Monday through Friday, January 17–21 and 24–28 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    You must take your first test by January 21 in order to complete your second test by the close of testing on January 28. There will be no make-up testing outside of the currently scheduled time. If you do not complete two tests at least five days apart by January 28 your campus access will be suspended.

Threshold Action Level Document

Many of you may remember the color-coded Threshold Action Level rubric we had in place last spring to aid in determination of what types of activities took place on campus. With input from our consulting epidemiologist, we are developing a new version of this document to provide guidance as we evaluate campus and Walla Walla community COVID conditions and how to respond in a way that prioritizes the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty. That spreadsheet will be published and linked in the COVID-19 Dashboard when it is approved by the Cabinet and elected faculty leadership.

In closing this not-actually-brief email, I want to acknowledge that there is a high level of intensity to people’s emotions around returning to campus right now. It is not easy to come back for yet another semester dominated by COVID-19, but we know that continuing with in-person learning is the best thing we can do for the mental health of our students – and, given the high number of preventative measures we have in place on campus and our high vaccination and booster rates, it is one of the safest places for their physical health as well. Continued cooperation with our COVID-19 protocols is a powerful statement about your commitment to the well-being of our campus community, and I thank you for that.

Best,

Peter

Peter Harvey
Chair, Coronavirus Task Force