Whitman County has seen a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases as students return to Pullman. The case surge was created by an unexpectedly high number of students moving back — some of whom are not following safety guidelines.
WSU and Pullman are taking steps to help keep their residents safe?
Phil Weiler, WSU vice president for marketing and communications, said the administration had hoped students would stay home for the semester, but many had got locked into apartment leases.
“Earlier this summer, we were hoping to provide some face-to-face instruction,” Weiler said. “By the time July rolled around, it was starting to become pretty clear that a face-to-face method would not have the safety we wanted. That’s why we made the announcement [that] we had to go virtual.”
Some students who are back in Pullman live in off-campus housing. For those who live in on-campus residential housing, COVID-19 safety monitoring continues to take place.
Weiler said dorms are 85 percent below capacity to ensure social distancing can be maintained.
Jill Creighton, WSU dean of students and associate vice president of student affairs, said the administration tried to keep on-campus housing as safe as possible, by enforcing the mandatory use of masks in residence halls.
“Before everyone got to campus, we asked everyone to identify if they came from a high-risk transmission area,” Creighton said. “If they did, then we asked those students to quarantine for a period of time before embracing the entire campus community.”
Despite the governor’s orders, some gatherings not following the restrictions still occur. This, in return, increases the spread of the coronavirus and puts more people in Pullman at risk.
Weiler said WSU and Pullman police are working together to stop the gatherings.
“Anytime a WSU student receives a citation relating to COVID, WSU also finds out,” Weiler said. “There will be potential consequences on top of the police citations. We see students doing what they need to do, but there is a percentage who are here who are not following those rules.”
Creighton said there are ways for the students who are currently on campus to still be social with COVID-19 restrictions.
“Being physically distant does not mean you have to be socially disconnected,” Creighton said. “The staff is doing a number of activities for students to stay on point. I would encourage students to find ways to stay connected in virtual spaces or small groups physically distanced.”