SPU administration applauds students efforts during winter quarter

SPU and Washington State universities continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic as vaccine rollout nationwide ramps up

Carlos Snellenberg-Fraser, Staff Writer

Data Visualization by Gabrialla Cockerell

As universities across the state are showing increases in positive COVID-19 cases in 2021, SPU had a total of one faculty and 12 student on-campus positive cases in the winter quarter. This was a drop in the number of positive cases at SPU in comparison to fall quarter.

It can be difficult to compare the case count at SPU to each university in Washington, as many report both on-campus and off-campus data, whereas SPU only has on-campus data.

To compare, SPU had a total of 13 on-campus cases, or 0.36% of the student population. Gonzaga had a total 67 on-campus cases this quarter, or a total of 0.89%. This is one example of how SPU is doing compared to other Washington universities.

This quarter, SPU improved their testing efforts for COVID-19. As part of that effort, all students were tested when they arrived back on campus and 75 random students across campus were tested every week.

In the winter quarter, Gonzaga University had 65 on-campus cases. Seattle University reported a total of 49 cases, but did not distinguish how many were on or off-campus. Western Washington University implemented a delay until mid-January to on-campus classes in the winter quarter; they had a total of 37 positive cases after the delay.

The University of Washington’s case tracking dashboard follows their total number of cases, rather than the on and off-campus cases. At UW Seattle, there were 449 cases, at UW Tacoma there were 28 cases, and at UW Bothell there were 5 cases.

According to Jeff Jordan, the Vice Provost for Student Formation and Community Engagement, SPU only counted on-campus COVID-19 cases due to requirements from the King County Department of Health. This is a different approach than some Washington universities who are continuing to track and report off-campus cases as well as on campus cases.

Despite isolated instances of students failing to adhere to university COVID-19 guidelines, Jordan said that students have been the ones that deserve credit for keeping campus cases low.

“I have to give credit to our students because the only way this works is because students decide to own it, to keep each other safe and to keep our community safe,” Jordan said.

Jordan explained that faculty is eager to resume classes on-campus when safe and said, “Our faculty miss being with our students… the question will be can they and how can they.” This comes as Dan Martin, the President of SPU, announced in an email sent to students that the university plans to resume on-campus and in-person classes in the fall of 2021.

As vaccination rollout speeds up nationwide, the university is continuing to have discussions about changes to COVID-19 procedures that may take place next quarter. Many of these changes are dependent on what Gov. Jay Inslee’s office will announce in the coming weeks and months.

Jordan says there is no plan at this moment for any vaccination sites being set up on campus, but acknowledged that it is not a confirmed decision at this point.

“We were just notified this week of a resource through the state of Washington with some legal experts, that we will be listening to their advice on what is and what is not viable for us… obviously this is not something that will change for spring quarter,” Jordan described.

When students return to campus in the spring, testing will not take place immediately. Testing for COVID-19 will take place on Monday April 5, the second week of classes. The rationale for this is due to a past pattern of increased travel for Easter weekend.

“What we have tried to do is say our marker is once students are done travelling for the most part, let’s do testing. That is why we are starting on April 5,” Jordan said.

Commuter students who are looking to be tested for COVID-19 are encouraged to contact Student Health Services to schedule a test. The testing day on April 5 is intended for on-campus students.

As students prepare to enter spring break and plan for the next quarter, Jordan says there are things students can do that will help keep on-campus cases down.

“Moving forward, continue to follow health and safety protocols… (and) we need to continue to wear masks and wash hands,” Jordan said.

As weather improves moving into spring, Jordan encourages students to take advantage of the ability to get outside which will help with mental health. The university is hoping in the coming weeks and months they will be able to have students get out and interact with the community.

“We think with some new guidance from the governor’s office we will be able to have more opportunities outside and around campus, maybe in some of our bigger spaces. Until we get the thumbs up for it we can’t do anything until that point, but we are preparing for that,” Jordan said.