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News >  Higher education

Washington colleges will open with strict COVID-19 safeguards

UPDATED: Wed., June 24, 2020

Sanitizer spray is seen in a mostly closed Compton Union Building on Wednesday, March 25, on WSU's campus in Pullman.   (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
Sanitizer spray is seen in a mostly closed Compton Union Building on Wednesday, March 25, on WSU's campus in Pullman.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

OLYMPIA – Washington colleges will open this fall with strict guidelines designed to protect students, faculty and staff from the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Jay Inslee and a group of college leaders described new rules that will require changes to living and dining facilities, wearing masks in many settings and limitations on visitors and crowds.

“We want you back there … in a manner that will keep you safe,” Inslee said during a news conference to announce the guidelines worked out by public and private school officials with help from business leaders and consultants.

The state has 50 public and private institutions of higher learning, with some 550,000 students, University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce said.

Still unknown are the fate of athletic events, and whether they will occur with or without spectators. Those decisions will depend on things not yet known, including the reopening phase of the county where a school is located and whether virus cases are increasing or decreasing, Cauce said. The NCAA and the athletic conferences also have some say in those decisions.

“It’s got to be safety first,” she said.

Fraternity and sorority houses will be at 50% capacity and dormitory capacity will be reduced with numbers depending on design, she said.

Students, faculty and staff will wear masks in buildings unless they are the only person in an office and outside when not alone. Students in living facilities won’t be required to wear masks in their rooms but will be expected to wear them when coming or going from the dorm or house and in common areas.

Anyone on campus who develops symptoms will be advised to seek medical attention. Isolation facilities will be available to students to live in if they contract the virus, and schools will have systems track any spread of the virus.

Lounges and other gathering areas will be reconfigured for smaller groups, separated by more space. Dining facilities will have more options for taking food outside or back to a room, offer ordering with a computer app and encourage payment options other than cash.

Hand sanitizer will be available at entrances and exits, with students, faculty and staff encouraged to wash hands frequently.

Many courses that previously featured a lecture in a large hall will now present the lecture by video online, but may feature small discussion groups or labs on campus for the enrolled students.

Community and technical colleges will keep on-campus time to a minimum, said Kathi Hiyane-Brown, president of Whatcom County Community College.

The schools will enforce the rules by building a culture of others asking a person to comply who isn’t, Cauce said.

“This is about demonstrating our respect and care for people around us,” Inslee said.

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