Whitman County is a growing COVID-19 hot spot in the United States with 1,659 cases per 100,000 residents. Pullman hosts many of those cases as WSU students slowly returned to school.
There are currently two testing sites in Pullman: one outside of Cougar Health Services, and one at the Steptoe Village Apartments, which the Washington National Guard set up.
Parties seem to be the main culprit of the coronavirus spread.
“Any activity … a party that is being held where they’re not social distancing, that is in excess of ten people and not wearing masks … is detrimental to the public health, and the host is held responsible,” said Pullman Chief of Police Gary Jenkins.
Jenkins said he feels that his officers wish they did not have to be the enforcers while giving out COVID-19 infractions.
The police are doing what they are told, and that is to uphold their responsibility of writing infractions. In the long run, it will hopefully deter students from being irresponsible and drive down COVID-19 cases in Whitman County. If everybody wears masks, transmission can be decreased.
Max Arend, junior criminal justice and criminology major, said the police are in a tough spot, but he is still frustrated.
“I can see there being a fine, but there should at least be a warning,” Arend said.
Arend said he has walked past bars and restaurants where nobody has masks on, and the spread of COVID-19 is likely very high in those enclosed spaces. He said he wishes the COVID-19 rules were more consistent between frat parties and bars where the spread of the coronavirus could be equal.
Arend said he had been to grocery stores in Pullman and saw multiple people not wearing masks.
“The only people who aren’t wearing masks are the people who live [in Pullman], and you have all the fraternity kids … wearing WSU masks,” Arend said. “The people who live in this town don’t want to wear masks, but the kids who are coming in are doing the right thing.”
Jenkins said they are focusing on larger groups because the virus spreads easily in crowds and can easily get out of control if not taken seriously.
Jenkins said there has been a lot of compliance with the COVID-19 mandates. The Pullman Police Department is working with the university and community leaders to ensure everybody knows the severity of the disease when exposed to vulnerable populations, he said. The real damage is done when the very few people who do not follow the rules go in public and amplify the spread of the virus.
The first-time infraction of $250 might seem harsh when taken at face value, but during a pandemic, public health guidelines need to be taken seriously. At the end of the day, the police are doing what is in the best interest of Pullman.
The sooner everybody – students and Pullman locals – follow the laws, wear masks and observe the social distancing rules, the sooner WSU and everything else will be back to normal.