On March 10, 2022, Seattle Pacific University sent out an email to the entire campus community announcing that most on-campus COVID protocols will be less strict.. Masks would no longer be required in most indoor spaces, and campus events would no longer need approval from the COVID Decision Group. This policy change put SPU in alignment with new COVID guidance from the state of Washington.
Certain areas on campus will still have COVID restrictions, such as masking or capacity limits. Masks will still be required in the Athletic Trainer’s office, Student Health Services, buildings without COVID approved air exchange systems and professor’s offices who choose to require masking. SPU facilities will be working on upgrading the air exchange system in Lower Moyer so that students can meet with faculty and staff members in those offices as well.
The Vice Provost for Student Formation and Community Engagement, Jeff Jordan, who is also a member of the COVID Decision Making Group, explained that SPU had to wait not only for state guidance to update their COVID protocols, but King County guidance as well.
“We not only aligned with the state, we had to align with the county, and that’s one of those things that makes it a little more nuanced for SPU compared to maybe like Whitworth or other schools that are outside King County,” Jordan explained. “And part of that is the Seattle King County Department of Health has mandated some things differently in the county… we weren’t sure the county would go the same direction as the state.”
Jordan also said that while professors can require masks in their personal office spaces, they cannot mandate masks in classrooms. They can request students to wear them, but if a student declines, they cannot be disciplined by the professor.
Professors can apply for an exemption to this rule in special circumstances, but those must be coordinated with the deans and chairs of the particular professor’s department.
While on-campus events no longer need approval from the COVID decision group, Jordan explained that administration will still be more strict when it comes to approving off-campus events.
“For off-campus events, we are still saying, ‘Hey, let us make sure you are going places that are paying good attention to some things with air exchange,’” Jordan said. “For instance, there may be some off-campus things, like if you go to Blakely Island, because of the facilities at Blakely Island, we may be taking some more precautionary measures.”
Despite the relaxation of most campus COVID protocols, SPU renewed its agreement with the testing company Curative, allowing faculty, staff, and students to get free on-campus tests for the rest of the 2021-2022 school term.
The earlier agreement was set to expire at the end of March before it was renewed. Jordan said this decision was made as a service to the campus community but also as a fail-safe in case of another surge.
“Our health center, in regard to the amount of testing that they do, especially during Omicron, it was fantastic to have someone on campus,” Jordan said. “We couldn’t keep up with the testing in the health center for the number of students who were coming through, so it was great for them to refer our students to Curative.
The fact that SPU still has a contingency plan for the possibility of another surge speaks to the sense of uneasiness some people have when it comes to the loosening of COVID protocols. Some people on campus believe that these major policy shifts are coming too soon.
“For the most part, it’s been pretty positive; people have been happy with the decision,” Jordan said of campus reaction so far. “There’s a few who would say we made the decision too early, that maybe we should have waited till a couple of weeks after spring break. We are all very closely following the BA.2 variant. But right now, we think it’s ok not to do anything more restrictive coming back for spring quarter.”
Before SPU decided to align itself with the state’s relaxing COVID policies, The Falcon took a poll asking students if they believed SPU should lift their mask mandate for the Spring. Out of 131 students, 93 said they did not think SPU should lift their mask mandate.
Jordan hopes that students who are excited to take off their masks and students who are more COVID cautious can have grace with each other as SPU enters a new stage of their COVID-19 pandemic response.
“Don’t judge each other. I have staff members who are not comfortable right now. I go to staff meetings sometimes, and some have masks, and some do not; it’s not a problem,” Jordan said. “We figured out how to do it with masks, we know how to do it without masks, we can figure out how to do both.”