WSU officials explain spring break decision

Shorter spring semester will be “less intense” than usual, provost says during COVID-19 town hall



WSU officials say the decision to cancel spring break is a preemptive measure against COVID-19.


WSU officials discussed the decision to cancel spring break and delay the start of spring semester, increased availability on-campus testing as well as COVID-19-related research at an Oct. 21 COVID-19 town hall.

University and Whitman County Health Department officials do not want to let students leave for a week during the middle of the semester because this would not allow a safe return when students head back to campus, said WSU Provost Elizabeth Chilton.

The spring semester will start eight days late, which will make it easier for a potentially staggered move-in, she said.

The cancelation of spring break should not have much of an impact on graduate students and their research, said Lisa Gloss, WSU Graduate School dean. The late start will give graduate students more time to prepare and ensure they are on track with their studies, she said.

Between the elimination of spring break and a later start date, the semester will be shorter than originally planned, Chilton said. The material students are learning will remain the same, but the semester will be less intense than normal.

On-campus COVID-19 testing has become more accessible throughout the fall semester. There have been about 5,100 tests administered to WSU students and employees, said Jason Sampson, assistant director of Environmental Services, Public Health and Sustainability for WSU.

WSU did not expect the spike in cases during August, he said, so the school had to catch up to prevent more cases. There are 25 contact tracers on the WSU Pullman campus who work with Whitman County officials.

Some people were scared to get the nasal swab test because it hurt their noses, Sampson said. Health officials will walk them through the testing process.

People have been willing to get tested multiple times, he said.

“We don’t have that pain that was associated with those original tests,” he said.

Additionally, WSU researchers have been studying COVID-19. They are in the middle of three studies to address different aspects of the virus in relation to maternal and infant health, said Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, vice chancellor for research.

The first study looks at how COVID-19 has impacted pregnant women or women who are already parents and need access to substance use treatment, she said.

Another study involves stress caused by COVID-19 in pregnant women. The third study involves stress coping mechanisms and resources needed during COVID-19 for pregnant women, Barbosa-Leiker said.

Much of the research is based on the Spokane campus, but it is not limited to that specific area, she said. The research is conducted throughout Washington.

“Almost none of our research is done in isolation,” she said. “We work in collaboration across campuses, colleges, extension sites and many, many clinical partners.”

The Pullman campus is leading an infant feeding study conducted by Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology researchers, Barbosa-Leiker said.

“This is where we’re recruiting COVID-19-positive mothers from Spokane and around the country to study infection risk and immunity in infants,” she said.

In another study, more than 900 pairs of twins were monitored to see how the stay at-home-order has impacted certain habits, such as physical activity and alcohol use, Barbosa-Leiker said.

“They found that people who reported increasing their physical activity levels after the start of COVID-19’s stay-at-home order reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those whose activity levels stayed the same,” she said.

Alcohol use changed soon after the stay-at-home order was in effect, she said. Researchers were also able to connect the relationship between stress and anxiety levels to alcohol use.