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Washington State University
Faculty Senate Concerns Test

Pullman-centric COVID-19 update

Dear Colleagues – Here are some mostly Pullman-centric factoids about COVID-19 as of 24 Aug 2021.

The Whitman County case count (293/100,000) is lower than the state level (437.5/100,000).

The vaccination rate in Pullman is much higher (59%) than other areas (36-39%).

Local hospital representatives report an increase in case load, but we are doing “ok” overall.

Approximately 11,300 students have reported their vaccination status (>90% vaccinated) with about 500 reporting personal exemptions (these will have to be adjusted given the recent vaccination mandate). Students have until 10 September to declare their status and WSU is receiving about 200 declarations per day at present. The rolling 5-day testing average has increased to 23.6 tests/day. I don’t have a positivity rate.

K-12 schools start classes today and a mask mandate is in place.

More local information can be found at: (presumably, the same can be said for other campus county health departments).

We are asking the administration for a public-facing, system-level dashboard with COVID-19 metrics.

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Request for further clarification of COVID FAQs

Could the FAQ-s clarify the types of masks permitted under the governor’s order? It is likely to cause disturbances.
“Types of face coverings permitted.
o For purposes of this order, a face covering must:
+Fit snugly against the sides of the face;
+ Completely cover the nose and mouth;
+ Be secured with ties, ear loops, elastic bands, or other equally effective method; and
+ Include at least one layer of tightly woven fabric without visible holes, although
multiple layers are strongly recommended.
o A face covering may also be a mask or face covering that provides a higher level of
protection than a cloth face covering, such as a medical procedure/surgical mask, a KN95
mask, or an N95 mask. ”

Also, I am concerned that one of the FAQ statements as written actually contradicts the order and needs to be revised more carefully. Specifically, FAQ says
“Can instructors remove their masks to teach?
Vaccinated instructors are permitted to remove their face coverings to teach, provided they maintain 6 feet of distance from their class OR can instruct behind a plexiglass barrier. …”
The governor’s order does not mention 6′ distancing, and does not specifically recognize instruction as a reason to remove one’s mask. In particular, the DOH order specifically indicates that public agencies and officials can impose more strict, but not less strict requirements.
To clarify the statement in question, there are provisions for removing one’s mask under specific circumstance (p.3 of the DOH order). E.g. communication with hearing-impaired students is one of those cases. But not in general.

Alex Dimitrov, Mathematics and Statistics

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The rising covid case rate – even among vaccinated individuals – has many instructors concerned about the university moving forward with face-to-face instruction, especially in large enrollment courses.

WSU policies surrounding fall 2021 instruction were developed under assumptions about the effectiveness of vaccines and lower positive case rates. These were reasonable policies given the information at the time. Unfortunately, that information is now outdated and obsolete. The rising covid case rate – even among vaccinated individuals – has many instructors concerned about the university moving forward with face-to-face courses. Large enrollment courses (> 60 or >100 students) are particularly worrisome. Recent data and local health trends suggest that the administration should reconsider its current instructional policy, and allow online/hybrid instruction to ensure the safety of students, staff, and the community.

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There is no plan for what happens to an instructor if/when they fall ill.

There are many unanswered questions about the logistics of moving forward. To name a few:

1. If a course is billed as FTF, can an instructor flip to SO or hybrid if they get sick? Now such changes are not being considered (apparently)

2. What if they are too sick to teach–who steps in?

3. Does an instructor infected with Covid on campus file a worker compensation claim if they need medical treatment and/or return to work benefits? Our state considers an illness that arises out of and in the course of their employment as eligible for workers compensation?

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Hybrid Models of Teaching for Primary Caregivers given Delta

Along with many of my colleagues I am adamant that the administration re-implement the hybrid model of teaching for those with medical or caregiver needs. My two boys are 3 years and 10 months, and they have never even had a cold. My significant other and I both teach large scale classes and are essentially being asked to expose ourselves, and therefore our children, to over 300 students multiple times a week. A mask mandate is a first step, but the Delta variant requires that the hybrid model must be an option. We know it works pedagogically and also keeps us and our children safe. We should not have to resort to such lengths to keep our families safe when we know this incredibly viable option exists. Thank you all for your efforts in keeping our community safe.

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Alternatives for Primary Caregivers Given Rise in Delta

Given the recent news on both the contagiousness and the deleterious effects of the new Delta variant, especially on children, I find it my utmost responsibility to do everything in my power to keep my two, very young, unvaccinated children safe. If the latest numbers on the spread of COVID in Whitman county are correct (a 300-599% increase in the last 30 days), alongside our pandemic history this time last year (#1 New York Times hot spot) I really prefer to go back to a hybrid model of teaching that keeps me (and therefore my children!) socially distanced from students. Given the latest memo from the Provost outlining the various teaching options (e.g., some online, hybrid) why can’t we go back to such models knowing that they are quite effective?

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COVID-19 public safety protocols at WSU concerning

Given the rise of the delta variant, I am incredibly worried about the public health implications (and for my family’s health) of returning in person next week.

I cannot believe I am saying this at an institution of higher learning—even the full-on commercial ventures have put off bringing people back into offices this fall (Google, Amazon) — but here it is. This is irresponsible from a public health perspective. There is no universal masking, no strict requirement that people are vaccinated. (Even with tightening on “personal reasons,” people do not have to be fully vaxxed until well into the school year, after the damage is done.)

Educators and health care professionals at WSU do not seem to care that cases in WA state rose 192% over the past 2 weeks (Texas was +53%, btw). Deaths are up 126%. Whitman county is currently 43% vaccinated (over 12).

And what about those of us with children under 12? Who is wondering what will happen in terms of transmission to and from them as they return to public schools? My zipcode where my child will attend school is 43% vaxxed as well. Teachers are not required to be vaccinated.

I sense that there is a high-stakes game of chicken being played on the backs of faculty, their families and – worst of all – students who belong to the highest hospitalization risk group now. It’s a frightening public health experiment that I have been told I cannot opt out of and students have no recourse if they are concerned about their own vulnerabilities.

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