Washington State University ramps ups COVID safety precautions

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University students are getting ready to go back to school. The university is taking steps to avoid that COVID outbreak they had in Pullman last fall.

The spring semester will be different for the Cougars.

Fidel Ramos’ final semester of school started with a swab in the nose.

Every student heading to campus is required to get a COVID test for the spring semester. He did just that on Thursday at Beasley Coliseum.

“I do feel pretty safe. I haven’t really seen people not wearing the masks and I feel like people are taking this seriously,” he said.

For those living on-campus in a residence hall, they can’t get their key card until that happens.

“What we learned in the fall semester is that there was no transmission that we’re aware of students living in residence halls. We had a very small number of classes that were in person. We weren’t aware of any transmission that took place there,” said Phil Weiler, the vice president of marketing and communications for WSU.

Since January 4, the first day the university started testing in the spring semester, the university has tested about 3,000 students. Weiler said they did a total of 11,000 tests throughout the fall semester.

Students and staff also have to do a daily health check.

To get into any school buildings, they’ll have to show a green check mark on their WSU app, showing they got tested and are free of COVID symptoms.

The university is also bringing back more students on campus as well as offering more in-person classes.

In the fall, the university had about 750 students living on campus. In the spring, they’ll have around 1,500 students there.

Weiler says that’s still only about 20 percent capacity of what they normally have.

In-person classes were limited to around 30, but in the spring, they ramped that up to around 60. Many students will still be learning online.

For sophomore Claire Kirn, all the new safety precautions make her feel a little more safe coming back to campus.

She planned to go back to Pullman early in the fall semester, but because of the outbreaks, she waited.

“It’s good. I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want my friends to get sick, my roommates, so I’m happy to do it and hope other people will do it as well,” she said.

The university also plans to test wastewater at residence halls several times a week, making sure there isn’t a sign of COVID. If there is, they’d test all students living in that area.

Weiler says they’re also working with off-campus housing facilities to offer screening of wastewater for fraternity and sorority houses as well as apartment complex.

WSU is also encouraging students to take a 10-day challenge, asking students to stay in a pod of five or fewer for 10 days. The goal is to limit interactions with others and practice social distancing.

“Really, if we can do that 10 days and have people lock themselves down, it’s going to go a long way toward making sure they’re safe here on the Pullman campus and the Pullman community,” Weiler added.

Eventually, Weiler says they hope to phase in some in-person activities again for students to have a better experience, knowing they’re isolated because of all the effects of the pandemic.

“We believe if we were to take a very deliberate, phased approach, and if we monitor the situation very closely, we’ll be able to start moving ourselves toward a more normal kind of semester,” he said.

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