Dear Whitman community,

Following several weeks with zero cases of COVID-19 on our campus, we did have one student test positive this week. While we still feel confident about the low numbers we have seen on campus and the declining numbers in our surrounding area of Walla Walla County, we are concerned by the presence of multiple, highly contagious COVID-19 variants in Eastern Washington and predictions that these may spread widely over the next few weeks. We are also seeing other colleges and universities across the country experience another uptick in outbreaks, largely traced to student parties and non-socially-distanced gatherings, leading to multiple campus-wide quarantines and shutdowns.

Therefore, the cabinet, elected faculty leadership and our consulting epidemiologist have determined that we will move to Threshold Action Level 1: Low effective Monday, March 22. However, this move makes it even more critical that you are vigilant about following the restrictions still in place as they remain essential practices for minimizing the ongoing risk of COVID-19 spread on campus.

Effective March 22, the following changes will take place on campus to coincide with the Washington state move to Phase 3 of the Roadmap to Recovery:

  • Indoor dining for students at Cleveland and Jewett Cafe will gradually move to 50% occupancy.

    • On-campus dining for faculty and staff will remain as grab-and-go orders only.

  • We will gradually increase occupancy limits and hours in BFFC and the Climbing Wall as we arrange additional staffing to support it. Occupancy limits will be determined on a per building basis according to space and equipment usage requirements. 

  • BFFC will open to employee recreational use. Employees are asked to give first access  to students by waiting to register for times no more than 24 hours in advance. Visit the Whitman Athletics website for information on facility access, protocols and making reservations.

  • We will open Harvey Pool for student and employee recreational use. Employees are also asked to wait to register for pool times no more than 24 hours in advance. Visit the Whitman Athletics website for information on facility access, protocols and making reservations.

We are pleased to make these changes, but it’s important to remember that Threshold Action Level 1: Low does not mean life on campus is going back to pre-COVID normal. 

Threshold Action Level 1: Low is a risk mitigation strategy in place because we are still in a pandemic and the possibility of new outbreaks still exists. All members of our community must continue to minimize the risk of transmission by:

  • Wearing face masks in all indoor and outdoor public spaces.

  • Limiting social gatherings in accordance with existing guidelines:

    • Inter-campus visitors are allowed in residence halls (one visitor per room; visitors may not be in public spaces; visitors from off-campus are not allowed).

    • Students may gather outdoors on campus in groups of up to 15 people and indoors in groups of up to five people. 

    • Student clubs and organizations may submit proposals to hold outdoor activities and gatherings of up to 15 people and indoors in groups of up to five people. 

    • Off-campus residents may gather for indoor visits of up to a total of five people from two households and outdoor visits of up to 15 people from two households.

  • Traveling only for essential reasons as agreed to in the Community Pledge.

    • PERSONAL TRAVEL FOR STUDENTS: I will not travel outside of Washington with the exception of arriving for the start of the semester and returning home at the end of the semester. 

    • PERSONAL TRAVEL FOR EMPLOYEES: I will strictly limit personal travel that may increase my exposure to COVID-19. Should I choose to travel outside Washington I will self-quarantine for 14 days prior to being permitted to return to campus. This does not include travel to and from Oregon for the purpose of commuting from home to work.

  • Participating in campus-wide pooled surveillance testing when assigned.

  • Completing the Daily Wellness Check. 

As members of the Whitman community begin to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the Coronavirus Task Force has received questions about whether policies will change for our vaccinated students, faculty and staff. We do not plan to change the COVID protocols before the end of this academic year and expect all members of our campus community to follow all our health and safety practices regardless of vaccination status.

We hope that the current trends of improvement continue. But we have also seen multiple times over the past year that COVID-19 cases can increase dramatically in a short period, and if necessary we are prepared to return quickly to Threshold Action Level 2: Medium. The health and safety of our campus community and the broader Walla Walla community remains among our highest priorities, and we thank you all for your continued perseverance in following all our COVID-19 protocols.

Best,
Peter Harvey
Coronavirus Task Force Chair