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Western postpones forum on fall return, citing rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation

As other universities discuss vaccine requirement for fall sessions, Western says more info needed

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A brick painted with the words "COVID-19" rests near Red Square in April, 2020. While technically prohibited, campus bricks are sometimes decorated to reflect relevant events. // Photo by Nate Sanford

Citing Washington’s rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, President Sabah Randhawa announced Thursday morning that Western Washington University will be postponing a Q&A forum on fall reopening until further notice.  

The forum, which was scheduled for April 29 at 3 p.m., was postponed in an email sent to campus. 

“I ask for your patience for a few more days as we await official directives and guidance from the Governor’s office and the Washington State Department of Health,” Randhawa said in the email. A new date for the Q&A forum has not yet been announced. 

The email cited an April 28 announcement from Washington State University, stating that proof of a COVID-19 vaccine will be required for both students and employees engaged in campus activities for the 2021-22 academic year. Exemptions will be allowed for medical, religious or personal reasons. 

In a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday, Phil Weiler, Washington State University’s vice president of marketing and communications, said there is flexibility in the personal reasons category of exemptions.  

“The personal exemption is really for those people who say, ‘This is my choice, you can’t tell me what to do,’” Weiler said. “Well, we’re not going to argue with you. We’re not going to require people to get vaccinated. What we’re gonna say is, ‘you have to make a conscious choice and you have to carry out that choice.’”  

Western has not officially announced whether or not they will require vaccines for students returning to campus fall quarter. On the vaccine information section of Western’s website, the school says the topic is being discussed by university stakeholders.  

Following the announcement, Randhawa said he received word from other university presidents who are also considering a vaccine requirement regardless of a directive from Gov. Jay Inslee.  

In the email to campus, Randhawa also cited a rise in COVID-19 cases in Washington. Washington State University’s April 28 announcement came just hours before The Seattle Times published an article reporting that King County is likely to move back to Phase 2, as Inslee announced that Washington state has entered a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases. 

During a Thursday afternoon press conference, Cindy Hollingsworth, a communicable disease manager with the Whatcom County Health Department, told The Front that the health department has not had any conversations with Western regarding a vaccine requirement for students. 

The health department also released new data showing that as of Saturday, April 24, 42% of Whatcom County residents had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Twenty-nine percent of Whatcom County residents are fully vaccinated, which the health department said is close to the state average. 

The health department also noted that the number of female-identifying people in Whatcom County who have initiated vaccination is 8% higher than the number of residents who identify as male.


Nate Sanford

Nate Sanford is the editor-in-chief of The Western Front and a fourth year news/editorial journalism major. His reporting focuses on the environment, local politics, culture and anything else that matters. His writing has appeared in Crosscut, The Planet magazine, Whatcom Watch and at least one desk in Haggard Hall. You can find him on Twitter @sanford_nate and at natesanford.westernfront@gmail.com.


Caroline Brooks

Caroline Brooks is a journalism student and a reporter for The Front. Her work includes local features and Bellingham-based news.


Kelton Burns

Kelton Burns is a reporter for The Front and a third-year Journalism: News/Editorial major. His work focuses on city news, usually related to City Council. He enjoys reading game reviews in his free time. You can reach him at keltonburns.thefront@gmail.com


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