While the state of Washington’s indoor mask mandate is ending Saturday, that won’t be the case for some area colleges and universities.
Some schools, including Gonzaga University and Eastern Washington University, are opting to keep their requirements in place later into the month due to the timing of spring break.
Others like Washington State University, Whitworth University and the Community Colleges of Spokane are thus far planning to follow the date set by Gov. Jay Inslee, who cited declining hospitalization and case rates in moving the date up from March 21, a date he initially set last month.
Even after the mandate lifts, however, masks still will be required in campus health care facilities and on public transit, as per state and federal requirements.
Here’s what the measures look like for colleges across the Spokane area:
Spring break in focus
Spring break at Gonzaga started Monday and will continue through the rest of the week.
With that in mind, the university will delay lifting the school’s indoor mask requirement until March 26.
Masks will be optional in most locations starting that Saturday. Faculty responsible for in-person classes or labs, however, will have the authority to require masks “without explanation,” according to the university, with the expectation of advance notice if possible.
Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh said while the university has followed certain regulations as required of higher education institutions, the school reserves the right as a private employer “to enact policies based on the specific needs of our own community.”
“Gonzaga students, faculty, staff and contractors are advised to carry a mask at all times on campus in case it is needed to enter a specific location or space,” McCulloh said in a statement. “The University will continue to make masks available in numerous locations as well.”
As of Monday, EWU will require masks up until the end of the weeklong spring breaks for the university’s semester and quarter programs.
Semester program spring break starts next Monday, while the quarter break starts March 28. Accordingly, the mask mandate will lift for semester programs March 21, while the mask mandate for quarter program students will lift April 4.
EWU announced that plan when the statewide mask mandate was expected to end March 21.
With the date moved to this week, however, administrators are mulling whether to make a revision, EWU spokesperson Dave Meany said Monday.
Ending this week
WSU, Whitworth, Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College are making face masks optional starting Saturday.
Since the start of the month, WSU hasn’t required proof of vaccination for visitors attending campus events.
Cougar Health Services still is providing vaccinations to WSU Pullman students as well as limited testing. The university also is encouraging faculty, staff, students and visitors to stay home if sick.
“Vaccination rates among the WSU community are strong,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said in a statement, “and while we continue to monitor conditions within our communities, I am confident we are on the right track to bring the pandemic under control.”
Whitworth University released an announcement Monday outlining the school’s plans to make masks optional in most campus locations starting Saturday.
Exceptions will include health and counseling centers, the athletic training room and the Graves Gym COVID-19 testing area. Faculty, meanwhile, will have the option to require masks in classrooms or labs in cases of identified medical concern, according to the university.
The university is recommending masking for anyone with symptoms, a potential exposure or for those within 10 days of their COVID-19 diagnosis.
“Should we all meet in The Loop to throw out our masks? No, not yet,” President Scott McQuilkin said in a statement. “We have learned over the course of the pandemic that circumstances change, and when they change, we have to remain flexible and responsive to protect our campus.”
SCC and SFCC announced their mask guidance along with plans to host commencement for both schools in person June 17 at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
Graduates from the 2021 and 2020 graduating classes, who took part in virtual commencements due to pandemic restrictions, will be invited to walk across the stage during the Class of 2022 commencement ceremony.
“We couldn’t be happier see everyone’s faces again,” SCC President Brockbank said in a statement. “This direction – backed by solid public health data and guidance – is a good indication that the worst of the pandemic is behind us.”
Masks will continue to be provided on campus, according to the colleges, as those who wish to continue wearing masks are encouraged to do so.
“We’ve had remarkable success in following health guidelines to keep people safe while providing students with an uninterrupted excellent education,” SFCC President Kimberlee Messina said in a statement.
“We look forward to everyone gathering together at our graduation celebrations to honor our students.”
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