Gearing up for phased return to in‑person work

Two people walking on the WSU Pullman campus.
Two people walking on the campus of Washington State University Pullman, Tuesday, June 1, 2021.

The return to physical workplaces includes policies and procedures that have gone through numerous recent updates influenced by expert guidance and more than a year of experience responding to the challenges of the pandemic.

Cleaning and disinfection requirements have been adjusted to comply with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has concluded that the risk of infection from touching a contaminated surface is low.

That means breakrooms are reopening for shared use by those who have been vaccinated, and bathroom fixtures taken out of service at the beginning of the pandemic are being uncovered and readied for use for the first time in more than a year. Reduced distancing requirements for vaccinated people has allowed for increased room occupancies, and elevator use aligned with elevator capacities.

The policy changes, coupled with the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine, allow WSU to welcome back all employees safely. The process of returning to physical work locations is expected to begin no later than July 12.

“It’s going to be vaccines that get us back to normal,” Shawn Ringo, assistant director of Occupational Health and Safety, said, “and so we’re encouraging everyone to go get vaccinated and participate in that solution.”

Environmental Health and Safety’s complete COVID-19 Work Plan is available on its website.

EH&S is committed to providing Cougar Clean hand sanitizer through 2021, having produced hundreds of gallons since the first batch was brewed back in April 2020. Orders can be placed at no cost for units and departments through the University Stores website.

As part of the workplace plan, all WSU employees are still encouraged to stay home if they are sick. The impacts of the pandemic are likely to cause a long-term shift in behaviors for the better, Ringo said. Updated training for employees returning to in-person work is being developed by Human Resource Services.

Employees will continue to use the WSU Attestation website daily prior to arriving to a WSU campus or worksite, though the requirement will be evaluated in the weeks to come.

Additionally, Risk Management Services has spent a year reviewing return to workplace plans across WSU’s campuses. Earlier this month, it updated its policy to only require the review of plans for an entire college or administrative unit. Once reviewed and approved, all sub-units and sub-areas can be approved by the corresponding chancellor, vice president or dean.

As of May 27, employees who are fully vaccinated can declare their status and be allowed to go without face masks and social distancing at University locations. Fully vaccinated is defined as having received the final dose in a vaccination sequence at least two weeks prior. Those who do not declare themselves vaccinated via Workday must continue to wear masks and socially distance while at a WSU location.

More information on the university’s vaccination policy is available on the COVID-19 website.

All WSU students, employees and volunteers will have to provide evidence of vaccination, or have an approved exemption, this fall.  Exemptions will be allowed for medical, religious and personal reasons. More information about the process to request an exemption will be announced later this summer.

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