Gov. Jay Inslee outlined a series of steps that the state’s colleges and universities would need to take in order to open in person this fall, including making students and staff self-certify that they have not experienced COVID-19 symptoms since their last visit to campus.
Students and staff who have the virus, or have been exposed to it, would be quarantined, Inslee said in a Wednesday press conference. The guidelines also call for school personnel to avoid nonessential travel and self-quarantine if they undertake any high-risk travel. If the pandemic is still a serious health issue by fall, everyone will need to wear masks in most areas of campus, including in classrooms and outside.
The University of Washington has already reduced seating density in lounges, and will do the same in campus dining facilities and decrease the number of students staying in residence halls, said University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, who joined Inslee in the news conference. At the UW, sororities and fraternities are being asked to reduce the number of people living in their halls by 50%, she said.
Cauce, a psychologist by training, said the university is trying to figure out “how to create a culture where we all recognize our lives are all intertwined, and we’re responsible for our own and other people’s safety.”
The university might develop an honor code that encourages students to report activity that could lead to the spread of the disease, for example, she said. “If someone does start getting out of line, that the peer group will come and say, ‘That’s not OK, that isn’t the way we do things at UW,’” she said.
Taking steps such as these “is about demonstrating our respect and care for the people around us,” Inslee said.
The UW and most other colleges and universities had already announced plans to open in-person learning for the fall quarter, which at the UW starts Sept. 30. To avoid spreading the virus, colleges and universities have been planning to teach courses differently, including online delivery of lectures normally given in large halls, frequent COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, and health surveillance in the dorms.
People in their 20s are just as likely to get the virus, Cauce said, and although they are less likely to die from it, the disease could have unknown long-term health implications. Young people could also spread it to older relatives, or to people of any age who are immunocompromised. “This is about protecting other people,” she said.
The health guidelines also include adequate sanitization of high-touch surfaces, require that students and staff stay home and seek a doctor’s advice if they are experiencing any symptoms, and require campuses to designate specific places where students who are infected can be quarantined.
Pacific Lutheran University President Allan Belton and Whatcom Community College President Kathi Hiyane-Brown also spoke about steps their campuses are taking.