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WSU leaders discuss Spring 2021 plans during town hall

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Plans for the Spring 2021 semester, from COVID-19 testing to housing and coursework, were the central topics discussed by university leaders during WSU’s latest town hall.

WSU President Kirk Schulz opened the university’s 13th systemwide town hall by talking about the upcoming holiday season. He emphasized three acts critical to keeping communities safe: Wearing masks, washing hands and watching your distance to others.

“This applies to our entire university community, not just our students, but our faculty and staff as well,” Schulz said, noting that recent local spikes in the Pullman area have been attributed to social gatherings among people outside of the 18-25 year old age bracket.

Schulz asked students leaving Pullman ahead of Thanksgiving to get tested prior to doing so. Testing continues to be available to WSU Pullman students through Cougar Health Services as well as the Washington National Guard, which also offers asymptomatic testing to campus employees.

Students who head home for the holidays are asked to remain away from Pullman until the start of the spring semester, Schulz said.

Professors have been asked to be flexible with students during the final leg of the fall semester, Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth Chilton said. The spring semester will look similar to the fall, with a majority of classes taking place remotely. A robust exemption process means those classes that do have an in-person component will be done in accordance with safety and public health guidelines.

Chilton also discussed changes to the spring semester calendar, including the replacement of the traditional weeklong spring break and the delayed start.

The entire town hall was recorded and can be seen on YouTube. Wednesday’s second town hall is set to begin at 5 p.m. and will focus more specifically on student issues.

WSU’s Spring 2021 testing plan for its Pullman and Spokane campuses was also discussed by Colleen Kerr, vice president of government relation and co-chair of the university’s WSU Testing, Attestation, and Contact Tracing (TACT) Committee.

The plan breaks down into four key areas:

  • Arrival testing
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Voluntary screening testing
  • Targeted screening testing

More information about the testing plan is available online. WSU Tri-Cities recently began on-campus COVID-19 testing, and other campuses will share information with their communities as it becomes available.

Some 900 COVID-19 tests were conducted on the Pullman campus during the first two days of the week, Jason Sampson, an assistant director within WSU Pullman’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety, said during the town hall. Among those tested Monday, only about 5% were positive, a significant improvement compared to the last time Sampson spoke to the WSU Pullman community on Oct. 21.

While the WSU Pullman community is trending in the right direction, Sampson said it’s important to keep in mind surrounding areas where many employees live are experiencing spikes, and that everyone must continue to take precautions to reduce the spread of the disease.

WSU professors Kelly Farnsworth, Jessica Bell and Anthony Nicola discussed their ongoing research related to COVID-19.

Farnsworth and Bell are currently leading efforts to test pets within COVID-19 positive households to better understand transmission of the virus. Nicola is an expert on virus transmission and is using his experience to better understand ways to stop infection of cells by the virus that causes COVID-19.

The university’s final systemwide town hall of the semester is scheduled for Dec. 9. The first town hall of the spring semester will be focused on providing answers and resources for caregivers during the pandemic.

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