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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Higher education

Whitworth University to go online for first week of most Jan Term classes over omicron fears

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 29, 2021

Signs in Whitworth University’s Hixson Union Building encourage people to practice social distancing on Aug. 27, 2020.  (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Signs in Whitworth University’s Hixson Union Building encourage people to practice social distancing on Aug. 27, 2020. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Most classes for the first week of Whitworth University’s Jan Term will take place online due to concerns with rising COVID-19 case levels throughout the state.

The state Health Department reported a new record-high number of coronavirus cases tallied in a single day Tuesday, with health officials wary of a potential spike across Eastern Washington linked to the COVID-19 omicron variant. On Wednesday, the state reported the first detected case of the omicron variant in Spokane County.

The university’s COVID-19 response team made the decision to go online for the first week of Jan Term with guidance from the Spokane Regional Health District. Jan Term is a monthlong session between the fall and spring semesters that typically offers internships, independent studies or study-abroad programs.

Most courses from Monday through Jan. 9 will take place online, after which Jan Term students can expect to fully return to campus Jan. 10. During this period, regular campus services such as residence halls, dining services and computer labs will remain open as usual.

University officials said the decision was influenced by the proximity of the New Year’s holiday with the start of Jan Term, as the celebrations could make for increased risk of exposure.

“With the holidays and larger gatherings being held, this change will provide extra time between events and the return to campus,” a university communication to students reads. “This will also give our Covid Response Team time to put into place internal systems for testing and other elements that will help keep our community safe as we respond to this new omicron variant.”

The message said affected students can still return to campus while attending classes remotely. Students were nevertheless encouraged to consider staying home for the first week “for the sake of our campus community health.”

The 11 courses that will take place in person represent a “small percentage” of the total offerings scheduled for Jan Term, said Whitworth spokeswoman Trisha Coder. These courses – ranging from labs and music workshops to physical education courses, such as a ski and snowboarding class – would be difficult, if not impossible, to conduct online.

The mostly remote period will also allow Whitworth a buffer as the university conducts re-entry testing for students returning from winter break who have received exemptions or are not yet fully vaccinated.

Coder said about 290 students – including athletes and Jan Term enrollees – are scheduled for re-entry testing Monday through Wednesday, with another round of testing set for Jan. 10-12.

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