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How area colleges are handling campus return plans, COVID-19 testing for spring semesters

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 11, 2021

Jason Styer, 23, a COVID-19 tester with Insight Diagnostics and a recent Washington State University graduate, tests Jennifer Weston, a student studying Nutrition and Exercise Physiology on Thursday at WSU’s Spokane Center for Clinical Research and Simulation in Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Jason Styer, 23, a COVID-19 tester with Insight Diagnostics and a recent Washington State University graduate, tests Jennifer Weston, a student studying Nutrition and Exercise Physiology on Thursday at WSU’s Spokane Center for Clinical Research and Simulation in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

With spring semesters either pending or underway, college administrators across the region have devised plans to prepare their campuses for any students returning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Spring semesters at Washington State University and Gonzaga University are set to start Jan. 19.

Eastern Washington’s winter quarter started last week, though health sciences students – who operate on a semester schedule – will begin Monday. Meanwhile, Whitworth University’s “Jan Term” started this past week, with the spring term set for February.

Here’s how the universities are kicking off the second half of the school year:

Washington State

Regardless of whether they live on or off campus, WSU students who regularly work at or use campus facilities must get tested, according to a document outlining the university’s testing program.

That includes students, faculty and staff at WSU’s health sciences campus in Spokane who work in clinical environments on campus and/or conduct human subject research in clinical environments. Other WSU employees are encouraged to get tested; a university spokesman said WSU cannot legally mandate tests for most employees due to employment law.

WSU Pullman is planning on up to 6,500 arrival tests for this coming semester, said David Wasson, director of WSU news and media relations, while the Spokane campus is expecting required testing for around 700 of 1,560 students, said Kim Papich, communications and public affairs director for the Spokane campus.

Once the tests are done, on-campus students must self-quarantine for 48 hours while waiting for results. Wasson said an unused, 291-room residence hall is prepped for isolation housing for on-campus students, with more available in other residence halls as needed. For off-campus students, WSU will work with local health authorities for accommodations.

Free testing for both campuses began Jan. 4.

“This plan remains flexible to ensure that exposure data can be identified quickly, given the dynamic nature of the pandemic and associated changes in public health recommendations and standards,” university officials wrote in the testing program document.

WSU is using a mobile app to make sure students – as well as faculty and campus visitors – keep up with any required testing and attestations.

Wasson said students will have to show the app, with the required inputs completed, to gain access to university facilities. Phil Weiler, WSU’s vice president for marketing and communications, said he was not aware of any instances last semester where someone did not have a smartphone to complete the mandatory daily attestation process.

“That said, it will be easy enough to handle these individual cases if they do pop up,” he said.

All students, faculty, staff and visitors must attest before visiting a physical WSU location.

The Pullman campus – in partnership with WSU’s One Health Diagnostics lab and Incyte Diagnostics – will provide voluntary testing throughout the semester. Students should expect two additional tests in addition to other targeted testing, such as those prompted by wastewater sampling at university facilities.

Eastern Washington

For the most part, Eastern Washington is not requiring or providing COVID-19 testing for the university’s campus community since most coursework is online, said Dave Meany, director of communications and media relations.

The exceptions are student-athletes, along with EWU health sciences students and faculty who work out of WSU’s Health Sciences campus in downtown Spokane.

Meany said 182 students and 61 faculty and staff in Eastern Washington’s health sciences and dental programs must get tested, per WSU’s requirements. Student-athletes, meanwhile, will be tested monthly in partnership with Incyte Diagnostics.

“We’re just trying to manage through this the best we can,” Meany said.

Gonzaga

Gonzaga University officials have asked any returning students, including graduate and law students, to take a COVID-19 test 72 hours before their return to campus. If the test returns positive, students are asked to delay their return.

“New students start check-in on January 16, followed by returning students Jan. 17-19,” university officials said in a statement. “In addition to regular residence hall check-in, on campus students will go through a health screening and we are offering no cost COVID-19 testing at this time. Off-campus students will also have access to those services.”

Student-athletes, meanwhile, may be subject to periodic surveillance testing per recommendations from the NCAA and as required by the Spokane Regional Health District and state, according to the university.

Like last semester, students and staff are asked to use the “ZagCheck” mobile app for self-screening checks. Students – except those fully remote outside of Spokane – are asked to attest daily, while staff are required only on days they go to campus, according to the university.

As of early January, approximately 2,100 out of roughly 7,200 enrolled for spring classes are expected to live in on-campus residence halls.

“We’re very aware that the pandemic is much worse than when students arrived on campus in August,” said Mary Joan Hahn, Gonzaga’s senior director of community and public relations, in a statement. “Our students were generally very cooperative and supportive of our preventative actions during the fall semester. We will use every opportunity to reinforce with the entire campus community the importance of social distancing, masks, hand-washing, and other prevention-based behaviors to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Whitworth

Whitworth University students living on campus underwent mandatory testing last Sunday ahead of “Jan Term,” a monthlong program that typically offers internships, independent studies or study-abroad programs. Travel, however, is on hold due to COVID-19.

On-campus students were provided free test kits as part of last week’s move-in procedures. Students will be tested again around February for spring term.

Tests are encouraged, but not required, for off-campus students. A quantity of free tests were provided for them last week on a first-come, first-served basis.

And while Whitworth’s student athletes are getting tested regularly, testing is most frequent for football and basketball players at three times per week, said Trisha Coder, media relations manager.

“We have our COVID Care Team, which has been phenomenal and basically working around the clock to keep our students safe,” Coder said.

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