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The Past, the Present, and the Future

The Past, the Present, and the Future

A Recap of the Pandemic for WWU and the Local County, and What WWU Plans to do Next 

By Ashley Herber 

Fall quarter has been full of ups and downs due to the all too familiar pandemic; thankfully though, because of precautions taken this quarter, more students will be able to come on campus next quarter. [1] 

Students must have their health pass to be able to go to class and access the cafeteria for the day. Photo by Winston Warner. 

Doug Tilstra, vice president for student life, explains what it took to get fall quarter ready for students back in September: “A lot of our effort has been on the logistics of how to run a campus in a pandemic.” Tilstra continues, “we had to rethink the way that we can and cannot do everything that we’ve always done in the past.” [2] 

WWU has had to adapt to the many COVID-19 regulations passed down from the state. These regulations include things like the number of people that can gather in groups for classrooms, dorm rooms, and religious activities. [3] 

Furthermore, regulations have changed over the course of the summer and fall quarter. Tilstra says, “We were having to keep track of all of the COVID regulations from the state. Just about the time that we would have a plan in place, new regulations would come out and there were times that we had to scrap everything that we had just done and start over.” [4] 

Walla Walla County has different regulations that affect businesses, schools, common citizens, and higher education. To help set the strictness of regulations, Washington state uses a three-level color system to designate the severity of COVID-19 in each county. [5] Green means safe, yellow is less safe, and red is unsafe. [6] 

The success of next quarter is dependent on students continuing to follow protocols like getting their temperature taken every day before going to class or eating. Photo by Winston Warner. 

These levels are mainly based on the number of COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people in the county over a two-week period. Currently, Walla Walla County is in the red level. While the scale allows a maximum 45 cases to be classified as a green level, Walla Walla county has nearly 400. [7] 

The local county has had the worst surge in cases that they’ve seen in the last three weeks, and this reflects how the pandemic has done nationally over the past month. As of November 11, the Walla Walla Hospital had 13 COVID-19 patients in their intensive care unit, which is almost their limit. If more people get sick and more beds are required for COVID-19 patients, the Walla Walla Hospital will be overwhelmed. [8] 

The University also had a recent spike in cases, with a peak of about 17 confirmed cases and over 130 people in quarantine over the weekend of November 7. When WWU experienced a spike in cases, health professionals and officials watched the University closely. Thankfully, the University was able to identify, contain, and stop the spread to a small group of people and there was no community spread. [9] 

Kari Firestone, associate dean of the nursing program and COVID-19 response director, explains the difference between community spread and traceable spread: “Community spread is when we have cases that are cropping up that we cannot track back to a particular source. That’s worrisome because we’re not sure how it’s spreading in the community, whereas cases that are traceable we can trace back to the source.” [10] 

The SaferMe app, contact tracing, and other protocols caused the infection on campus to be slowed significantly. Because of this, COVID-19 cases have declined on campus while cases in the Walla Walla county climbed. [11] 

See Also

The safer me app made contact tracing easier and helped to slow the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Photo by Winston Warner. 

The effectiveness of WWU’s protocols gives the University hope for winter quarter, making possible the decision to allow more students back on campus next quarter. This decision, however, is contingent on students and staff pulling together and following the protocols set in place. [12] 

Jodi Wagner, vice president of university relations, cautions students that “we cannot have outbreak after outbreak after outbreak. Our campus can’t sustain that.” [13] 

In order to continue keeping the campus as COVID-19 free as possible, additional equipment such as plexiglass and cleaning supplies will be installed over Christmas break. When students return to class, there will be more monitoring of protocols for winter quarter. The University will also continue to try to develop new ways to create community engagement that fits in with safety protocols. [14] 

Tilstra explains why WWU is so vigilant about the COVID-19 protocols in place: “Part of the reason we are doing this is not so much to protect ourselves but to follow the command of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves. One adage that is really helpful to keep in mind is ‘I wash my hands for myself, I wear my mask for you.’” [15] 

Citations 

  1. Interview with Doug Tilstra on 11/11/2020. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Walla Walla County Department of Community Health. (2020, November 14). https://bit.ly/32V7Fa3
  1. Interview with Doug Tilstra on 11/11/2020. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Interview with Jodi Wagner on 11/11/2020. 
  1. Interview with Kari Firestone on 11/11/2020. 
  1. Interview with Jodi Wagner on 11/11/2020. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Interview with Kari Firestone on 11/11/2020. 
  1. Interview with Doug Tilstra on 11/11/2020. 
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