Washington State University is rolling out a detailed plan to contain any potential spread of COVID-19 when students return to the Pullman area in January. The plan includes an effort to test every student upon arrival whether they are living in the residence halls, the Greek system, or other off-campus housing.

In addition to testing, WSU is encouraging all students to take a 10-day #CougsCancelCOVID challenge immediately after arriving in Pullman: asking them to stay within a ‘pod’ of no more than five individuals for the first 10 days upon arrival and take extra safety precautions during that time, including wearing masks, washing hands, and physical distancing.

“The goal is to test all students upon arriving, regardless of where they are living, but student behavior is really important,” said Guy Palmer, professor of pathology and infectious diseases and one of the leaders of WSU’s COVID-19 task force. “I’m optimistic that we will see a difference from the the fall with more physical distancing and no big gatherings because our student communities are now more engaged and aware of the impact of COVID-19 locally and nationally.”

As part of the testing plan, WSU’s COVID-19 team will employ cold and hot maps of the area: cold maps will allow them to see which locations in Pullman have a concentration of students who did not get tested, so they can target that area with more testing resources. Hot maps will indicate where many positive tests have come in, so officials can conduct more testing, contact tracing, and isolating known cases.

“Our aim is to contain any increase in transmission to the smallest degree possible, using contact tracing and getting it under control very quickly, so it doesn’t spread any further,” said Palmer.

Testing process

Spring semester classes will be primarily taught at a distance similar to the fall. However, WSU officials recognize that many students will return to the area regardless, so the University will provide COVID-19 testing for all of them free of charge.

All students living in University housing will be required to take an arrival test. In the spring, first-time freshman will populate some of the residence halls, increasing numbers in that housing from around 750 in the fall to about 1,500 in the spring semester. Still, the residence halls will be at only 20% capacity, which will allow students to have single rooms and physically distance in common areas.

For those living off campus, WSU will not just encourage testing but require it for any students who are employed on campus, have in-person activities or classes, or simply want to use any campus facilities, including dining centers, the Compton Union or CUB, Chinook Student Center, and either indoor or outdoor recreation facilities. Tested students will be able to show they have completed arrival testing and a daily attestation that they have no symptoms using the myWSU Mobile App, which will then allow them to have access to Pullman campus buildings and facilities.

Many of the tests will be conducted at the Beasley Coliseum as part of the check-in process for students housed on campus, but there will also be COVID-19 testing available at Adams Mall in the heart of the College Hill area for WSU’s Greek community and other students who live off-campus.

A full schedule of student COVID-19 arrival testing is online with all the locations and times available nearly every day during the month of January. 

Outreach to Greeks and off-campus students

WSU is also working closely with the Greek system, where COVID-19 spikes occurred in the fall. Fraternity and sorority leadership has committed to testing their members.

“I do think that the community is taking this more seriously,” said Farrin Johnson, vice president of public relations for the WSU Panhellenic Council. “With all the access to testing and this huge push, I am hoping to see that people will be following the guidelines and keeping each other safe.”

Johnson noted that in addition to joining WSU’s #CougsCancelCOVID challenge, the WSU Greek system also has developed the CORE or COVID-19 Organization Response Expectations program, which outlines rules, including a prohibition on social events and holding all other meetings virtually.

Many chapters are not opening their off-campus housing at all, according to Johnson, but for those that are opening, they are required to submit a plan that outlines their safety measures which must be approved by the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life.

Sean Greene, interim associate vice president for facilities and operations for Student Affairs, said the University is undertaking a strong outreach effort to students in Pullman and the response has been encouraging.

“We’ve been doing a lot of broad communication with landlords, Greek chapters, and house managers as well as talking to students off-campus,” said Greene. “Students want to know what things they can do to be safe, and as we’ve seen through our National Guard and Cougar Health Services testing, students want COVID-19 testing when it has been made available to them.”

Additional information on WSU Pullman’s arrival testing plan can be found at: wsu.edu/covid-19/covid-19-testing/arrival testing