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COVID-19

News >  Higher education

Inland Northwest colleges ramp up testing regulations as fall semester kicks into gear

A woman cleans the table where she was sitting before leaving the Compton Union Building on Aug. 28 at Washington State University in Pullman. The University has launched the Cougs Cancel COVID campaign after a surge in the number of students testing positive for COVID-19 this week.  (Geoff Crimmins/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP)
A woman cleans the table where she was sitting before leaving the Compton Union Building on Aug. 28 at Washington State University in Pullman. The University has launched the Cougs Cancel COVID campaign after a surge in the number of students testing positive for COVID-19 this week. (Geoff Crimmins/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP)
By Ellen Dennis For The Spokesman-Review

Universities in the Inland Northwest are back in class – or will be soon.

COVID-19 case counts have ranged to extreme at Washington State University to negligible at some other universities.

The schools have created different policies and testing guidelines aimed at keeping infection rates low.

Below are testing and some other COVID-19 policies of local universities.

Gonzaga University

Beginning Tuesday, Gonzaga University will roll out a COVID-19 surveillance and targeted testing plan for students as they return for their second week of in-person fall semester classes.

The university will reach out to a sample of randomly selected students each week and ask them to get tested for COVID-19, President Thayne McCulloh said in a video last week. Those who indicate they are exhibiting disease symptoms in the daily health screening will also be asked to get tested.

An online dashboard with reported case data and testing information has been created and will be updated every Friday. There have been 16 cumulative positive test results on campus and there are eight people who are currently positive, according to the dashboard.

University of Idaho

Last week, the University of Idaho began a COVID-19 surveillance testing plan and sent out an email communication to roughly 400 randomly selected students and faculty requesting that they sign up to get tested for the disease.

Half of those who were contacted followed through and took tests, a turnout the administration anticipated when they chose the amount of students to contact, according to university spokesperson Jodi Walker.

The frequency at which surveillance testing will be conducted still is being determined by the university’s COVID-19 modeling team.

University officials originally planned to wait until after Labor Day to launch the surveillance testing plan, but the decision to start it early was caused by the surge in cases just across the border in Pullman .

Tuesday will mark the beginning of the third week of in-person classes for University of Idaho students at the Moscow campus. All students were required to take COVID-19 tests back in mid-August prior to the first day of their fall semester.

According to the university’s COVID-19 informational webpage, 7,500 total tests had been conducted on campus to date and 83 total positive tests have been reported. The page is updated with testing and case number data every Monday, but this week it will be updated on Tuesday because of the Labor Day holiday

Washington State University

Despite its decision to cancel in-person classes this fall, Washington State University is on the national radar because of the surge of infection rates in Pullman. This spike was largely caused by students who chose to move back to the college town to live in houses and apartments they already had leased to complete their remote coursework.

A New York Times list of metro areas in the U.S. with the greatest number of new cases relative to their population in the last two weeks puts Pullman third as of Saturday, with 6.8 cases per 1,000 people.

Starting Tuesday, there will be two WSU-specific COVID-19 testing locations in Pullman, one of which will be located on campus outside of the university health facilities and offer free drive-up and walk-up testing for students. The other location will be located off-campus and be run by a team of 25 Washington National Guard members.

“What we decided to do is try and place them in an area a little ways away from campus where there’s a large number of apartments – where we know who are in apartments live,” said WSU spokesperson Phil Weiler “It’s the idea of bringing the testing to students.”

The university does not currently have plans to make WSU-specific case numbers available to the public. Instead, case data that come from WSU testing sites will be lumped into the overall cases reported by Whitman County Public Health.

As of Saturday, there were a total of 707 cases reported by Whitman County Public Health. The majority of new cases fall between in the age range of 20 to 39.

Eastern Washington University

Tuesday will mark the beginning of the third week of in-person classes for Eastern Washington University students at both the Cheney and Spokane campuses.

Students and employees are required to fill out a daily symptom-check form online before coming to campus or immediately upon arrival. University-specific testing is not being offered at either campus, nor is testing a requirement for students or employees.

“We are not conducting routine testing ourselves, nor are we requiring students to test in advance or provide proof that they’ve tested in advance.” said Lance Kissler, EWU associate vice president of strategic communications and marketing. “We’re not dissuading people from getting tested, but we’re also not telling people to just go get tested. Instead it’s more, ‘contact your medical provider and follow their directions because most testing centers and medical providers don’t want people showing up to get tested just to get tested.”

According to its COVID-19 statistics webpage, seven people at EWU have tested positive for COVID-19, all of whom are located in Cheney.

Whitworth University

Whitworth has contracted with a local lab to process COVID-19 tests, and school officials have said they expect test results with 24 to 48 hours. The university also has hired two full-time contact tracers.

Whitworth President Beck Taylor, who spent Friday morning greeting students and families as they moved into campus residence halls, said the university was randomly testing 50% of incoming students for COVID-19 and conducting additional surveillance testing of students living off campus.

Taylor said the university was preparing to launch an online “dashboard” to help students, faculty and staff keep track of COVID-19 cases and evaluate the threat of the virus.

But due to federal confidentiality requirements, the university won’t necessarily notify every student who lives in a residence hall, or every student who attends an in-person class, if one student from the group tests positive, Taylor said.

“It all depends on proximity,” he said.

Reporter Chad Sokol contributed to this report.

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