Coronavirus Task Force
The structure of Whitman's Coronavirus Task Force has been updated based on what we have learned learned these past six months. This new structure will help us to be as effective as possible. Elected faculty leadership are part of the task force and working groups to enhance communication and coordination with the faculty in all of our work. The task force has two primary working groups: one focusing on policy and planning issues and the other focusing on operations and implementation of or plans.
Much of the policy/planning group’s efforts will be on determining if we can resume mostly in-person learning safely in the spring. A date for making the decision has not been established yet, but I expect it to be between the middle of November and the middle of December. While we wish we could make a decision earlier (and we recognize it is harder for everyone to have less time to implement the decision), we believe it better to wait a little longer to have the best information possible on the following key issues:
- Will infection rates change in the winter and will there be a second wave?
- What are the infection rates both in Walla Walla and the regions our students come from?
- Will the coming flu season have an impact on infection rates?
- Will Whitman be able to get access to quality testing with timely results?
- Can Whitman carry out contact tracing, quarantine positive cases and isolate those who have had contact with positive cases?
- Does the Walla Walla medical community have capacity to treat cases?
We are monitoring trends across the country. It is encouraging to see infectious rates dropping after a spike this summer. It is also encouraging to see we have learned much about how to more effectively treat the virus, and that death rates are coming down, but they are still too high. We are concerned about the potential of a second wave of the virus this winter. We are also studying other colleges who have reopened this fall to learn what worked well for some and why others had to return to remote learning relatively quickly.
Our operations and implementation group is continuing their work from this summer to get Whitman as prepared as possible for a possible reopening. Their efforts are focused around securing access to test kits to be able to regularly test all members of the Whitman community throughout the semester; ensuring proper social distancing in classroom and lab settings; determining how best to house students on campus and provide adequate quarantine space; determining what extracurricular activities can be safely carried out such as music and theater performances, athletics and fitness activities, and student club activities.
In making these decisions, Whitman will continue to follow the best advice we can get from scientists and healthcare professionals. We know that in person is the best way for most of our students to learn; we know that being together as part of a larger community is also an important part of the Whitman experience. Our goal is to return to mostly in person learning as soon as we feel we can safely do so.