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WWU opens new on-campus spaces despite rise in Whatcom County COVID-19 cases

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The Viking Union at Western in Bellingham, Wash on Jan. 25, 2021. The study space in the Viking Union Multi-Purpose room recently reopened. // Photo by Lauryn Haywood

By Lauryn Haywood 

After 10 months of remote learning, Western Washington University has opened the Multi-Purpose Room as a winter quarter student study space, as well as the previously opened Haggard Hall computer labs.

This announcement was made Tuesday, Jan. 20, despite the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Whatcom County. Health officials have reported on Jan. 26 a record total of 5,345 cases in Whatcom County.

Fourth-year Western student Irena Ageyev used the Haggard Hall lab for studying during fall quarter. 

“Having those spaces at Western has been literally a blessing, and even though it's only two spaces, it's still something that's available and that was really helpful for me,” Ageyev said. “You social distance and you wear a mask the whole time. We had every other computer shut down and I felt very safe the whole time.” 

Paul Cocke, Western’s director of communications, said these spaces include Wi-Fi and printing access, which some students do not have access to in their homes.

“It’s not just the printing,” Cocke said. “It's also an ability to go somewhere and study. I spoke to a student about a month ago, and she lived off-campus,” Cocke said.

Another reason the Viking Union reopened was for students who want a quiet workplace, Cocke said. “[One student’s] roommate liked to listen to loud music, and she just couldn’t study in her home. That is one of the main reasons we are doing it: for students.”

In order to use Western’s study spaces, students must wear a facial covering and complete a COVID-19 symptom form before arriving on campus. They also must adhere to monitored physical distancing and no eating is allowed inside the buildings as per the directions listed on Western’s website. 

Western is balancing student needs and safety with this decision, Cocke said.  

“This is a balancing act between how much it's going to be used,” Cocke said. “We have to also remember that we have frontline workers, custodians, that have to go into those spaces to clean them. We don't want to open up more than we really need.” 

Kim Hankinson, a public health worker in communicable disease consulting for the Whatcom County Health Department addressed the need for these spaces and gave advice as to how to safely utilize them.

“While staying home is safest, we recognize that this may not be a feasible plan for individuals who, for example, are experiencing isolation or technology barriers,” Hankinson said.

For students who choose to use campus spaces, Hankison gave advice on preventive measures students can take in order to keep themselves healthy. 

“Implementing layers of mitigation such as symptom screening, masking, physical distancing, hand washing, cleaning and choosing large, well-ventilated spaces have proven to be effective in reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19,” Hankinson said.


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