The University of Washington and Seattle University will both return to in-person classes on Jan. 31, after moving online for the first four weeks of winter classes while coronavirus cases were spiking because of the omicron variant.
UW President Ana Mari Cauce and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark Richards announced their shift back to in-person education in a letter to students sent Monday. Seattle University President Eduardo Peñalver sent a similar letter to students on Tuesday.
As omicron cases surged late last year, UW had initially announced that the first week of classes in January would be held online, to allow for more buffer time between students’ holiday travel and the beginning of classes.
That deadline was pushed to the end of January, as case numbers continued to rise.
But as the omicron-fueled spike shows signs of declining — positive cases in King County have fallen by 38% in the last week — Cauce and Richards announced the return to classrooms and lecture halls.
“The improving public health situation and the resulting reduction in coronavirus-related disruptions allow us to follow through with our plans to return to largely in-person classes and learning experiences,” the letter said. “Learning from each other through our different and shared experiences is critical to our intellectual and personal growth and career and life journeys. The past several years have affected each of us in profound ways.”
Limited UW classes involving clinical instruction continued to meet in-person through January. Cauce and Richards wrote that they have seen no signs of in-classroom transmission in those classes.
Peñalver, in his letter, wrote that the university saw more positive cases in students and employees in the first two weeks of January than in all of fall quarter.
“When we decided on Jan. 3 to delay our return to in-person instruction, we were experiencing a rapid increase in COVID cases among members of our campus community as well as in the broader Seattle community,” Peñalver wrote. “Today, as we had expected and hoped would be the case, the number of cases within our university community has dropped to manageable levels and continues to decline.”
Peñalver said that some graduate-level classes would remain virtual and any exceptions to the return to in-person instruction would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
UW is urging teachers to be flexible to accommodate students who may need time off for illness or quarantine. Earlier this month, UW told professors they could choose to conduct classes remotely until Jan. 28. Professors who chose to conduct in-person classes were required to accommodate students participating remotely.
Now, according to Cauce and Richards’ letter, professors are not required to offer a remote option in addition to teaching in person.
The UW requires masks indoors and has also required all students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated. As state workers, UW employees are required to be vaccinated under Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate for state workers.
Both universities urged students and employees to wear higher-quality N95, KN95 or surgical masks and to get booster shots.
“We cannot promise this will be the last time the coronavirus will cause disruptions to our University,” Cauce and Richards wrote. “But what we can promise is that we are committed to in-person learning when the public health situation allows for it.”