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Monday, May 17, 2021

Western confirms COVID-19 surges contained

COVID-19 outbreaks snuffed as spring quarter begins and vaccinations become more accessible

COVID-19 testing for Western Washington University students is available at the Fraser Hall testing site located next to Red Square on campus.
COVID-19 testing for Western Washington University students is available at the Fraser Hall testing site located next to Red Square on campus. Students are required to bring their Student I.D. and appointment QR code from their MyWesternHealth account to be tested. // Photo by Nicola Wasmuth

By Nicola Wasmuth 

After off-campus parties caused COVID-19 cases to surge, Western Washington University confirmed that the outbreaks have been limited after imposed quarantines.  

Since the beginning of spring quarter 2021, the Student Health Center has distributed over 2,400 tests with five positive results separate from the outbreak, according to Dr. David Hansen, the center’s associate medical director.  

The parties took place during the weeks of March 8 and March 15, leading to 67 positive COVID-19 tests, according to a Western Alert sent out on Thursday, April 1. On-campus students who tested positive have either relocated to their family residences or to Western’s designated quarantine and campus isolation spaces. 

Noah Matisse, a second-year Western student, frequently gets tested for COVID-19 on campus. 

“I believe that people who are hosting large parties with open invite[s]… are super tone-deaf and irresponsible,” Matisse said. “The people I know who participate tend to mitigate the effects of the virus and just conflate it as a common cold.” 

Matisse, who hopes to return to in-person classes in the fall, has taken more classes online than in person during his college experience. Matisse started at Western in the fall of 2019 and has been taking online classes since spring 2020.

“I believe Western is doing the best it can … I know they frequently test students who live on campus and impose quarantines on those who test positive and take precautions proportionate to the situation,” he said.

Western has not taken disciplinary action against the students who threw the parties according to Paul Cocke, Western’s director of University Communications.

“If there is some really egregious behavior that [the university] can pin down, they might proceed, but they prefer to educate first,” Cocke said.  

Cocke said that Western’s numbers are lower than other schools in the area.  

“We certainly don’t want to demonize or stigmatize students because if you compare Western’s numbers of [COVID-19] positivity to just about any school in the region or state, we are doing fantastic,” Cocke said. “I think Western students have been super responsible and very aware of being healthy in their community.”

Since the beginning of the school year in fall quarter, Western has had a total of 96 positive cases, while schools like Central Washington University have had 388 cumulative cases. At the beginning of their school year, CWU had a total enrollment of 11,110. Since September, the University of Washington Seattle has had a cumulative total of 1,027 positive cases among students. Their total enrollment at the start of the school year was 48,734. 

Cumulative COVID-19 cases in Whatcom County have reached 7,549 as of April 11, according to data posted by the County.  

“As the weather gets better, people spend less time indoors and more time outside, which is good for limiting virus spread,” said Jennifer Moon, Whatcom County Health Department’s public information officer.  

The university continues to test students and it is also preparing for vaccinations even though the demand for vaccines exceeds supplies.  

Hansen expects challenges to arise as all adults in Washington become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting April 15, as the demand will be high. 

“The Student Health Center is working closely with other vaccine providers in Whatcom County to coordinate vaccine delivery with the goal of providing [COVID-19] vaccines to all Western students prior to summer break,” Hansen said. 

Even as vaccinations are starting to roll out, students are advised by the Student Health Center and Whatcom County to abide by the COVID-19 safety measures.

“Students, faculty and others in the community can ensure their safety on and off campus by doing the things we all know prevent transmission: masks, distance, small and infrequent gatherings,” Moon said. 

Nicola Wasmuth is a sophomore at Western and enjoys writing about social justice and the arts. When she is not reporting, Nicola enjoys making photos and plans to become a photojournalist. You can reach her at wasmutn@wwu.edu.

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