Tips and resources for Cougs caring for children and elders during a pandemic were shared during the university’s first COVID‑19 town hall of 2021.

WSU President Kirk Schulz began the webcast, which also included information about the state’s Phase Finder tool and the outlook for the Fall 2021 semester, by thanking the university community for its tenacity in the face of ongoing challenges.

“I’m very very proud of our faculty, staff and students,” Schulz said. “The resiliency that you all continue to show has been simply amazing. I’m proud every day to be associated with you.”

The town hall was broadcast live on Youtube, where a taped version can be watched in its entirety.

Work flexibility

For employees who need time away from work, Human Resource Services has its COVID‑19 leave and work options website. HRS has also developed a leave scenarios and available benefits checklist to assist employees in determining the best option for them. Employees with questions can reach out to HRS staff through the department’s website.

Teleworking remains the preferred option for WSU employees, and they are encouraged to work with their supervisors if they would prefer a flexible work schedule. Supervisors have been asked to consider flexible work schedules, said Lisa Gehring, assistant vice president of employment services.

Faculty can now request a modification of duties if they are responsible for dependent care due to COVID‑19. Among these possible modifications is relief from service obligations and responsibilities, flexibility in class scheduling as well as co‑teaching supporting. More information can be found on the Office of the Provost’s website.

Childcare

Faculty, staff or students in need of childcare can visit the Child Care Aware of America website for assistance locating high quality and affordable childcare. More information about WSU’s Childcare Center, which provides services to staff, faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, can be found on its website. In‑person tours are not currently available, though virtual tools are being done for families that have been offered enrollment.

Self-care

Students and employees who are caring for children or older adults need to also take care of their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing during this stressful time, Ann Monroe, director of employee benefits, said. HRS has set up a Caring for Self and Others website, which has a wealth of information on topics like fitness and nutrition, stress management, mental health and social connections. The site also has a link to the Washington State Employee Assistance program, a free, confidential program that helps state employees with counseling services.

The Academic Success and Career Center continues to offer academic success coaching and peer tutoring, with appointments happening on Zoom. The Math Learning Center, the Writing Center and the Chemistry Learning Center are also working to assist students in need this spring.

Phase Finder

Whitman County Public Health’s Public Information Officer Ben Stone also spoke during the town hall on the rollout of the COVID‑19 vaccine as well as necessary actions that must continue to limit the spread of the disease. Washington residents can now see whether they are currently eligible to receive the vaccine by using the state’s Phase Finder tool.

The tool consists of a series of questions related to user’s health and living situation. Those eligible will receive confirmation and be shown locations where they can receive the vaccine. Upon arriving for their vaccination, they will then show medical staff Phase Finder’s eligibility confirmation screen, printed or taken as a screenshot on a mobile device.

Anyone not currently eligible to receive the vaccine under the state’s phased distribution can provide contact information and will receive updates from the Washington State Department of Health.

Stone encouraged viewers to continue to stay physically distant, to wear masks and to monitor their own health as the vaccine rollout continues. Nonessential travel should also be limited. More information on the state’s reopening process can be found online.

Fall 2021

Aside from guidance for caregivers, WSU leaders also provided an update on plans for the upcoming fall semester.

On Jan. 25, Schulz, Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth Chilton, and Vice President of Student Affairs Mary Jo Gonzales wrote a letter to the WSU system regarding plans for an expansion of in‑person experiences for the Fall 2021 semester.

“We’re feeling optimistic about focusing our planning efforts on more substantive in‑person interactions come fall,” Chilton said. “That includes both the classroom experience as well as outside the classroom.”

She noted that dozens of classes have taken place in person on the Pullman campus since fall 2020 using social distancing and PPE and that there were no cases of COVID‑19 spread in the classroom. Lessons from these experiences will guide WSU as it looks ahead to the fall semester,” Chilton said.

Chancellors will be announcing further details about their campus’ plans as more information becomes available.