Update on Western's preparations related to novel coronavirus

Dear Campus Community,

I know that you have been concerned about coronavirus and its potential impact on the health of our community members.  In this message, I want to update you on the situation and the steps we are taking to address it.

I returned over the weekend from a trip to Pakistan, so I was closely following the coronavirus story in Asia. I also learned this morning that public health officials in Washington have announced a total of six deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, four of which occurred at a nursing home in Kirkland in King County.  Five of the deaths were of King County residents and one a Snohomish County resident.  This is a rapidly developing situation and consequently Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency.

It is important to emphasize that as of this writing, no members of the WWU community have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and there are no cases reported in Whatcom CountyEven so, please know that we are taking this issue most seriously and urgently.

Western Washington University staff continue to work closely with the Whatcom County Department of Health and we are closely monitoring updates and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.  This includes encouraging everyone to monitor their own health, practice good hygiene and stay home if feeling sick.  Thus far the vast majority of people who have become ill with COVID-19 have experienced relatively mild symptoms, such as fever and cough. 

University preparations
The University has extensive and thorough emergency procedures, and we will do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of our community. 

Out of an abundance of caution, we are making the same types of preparations that we would for any other potentially disruptive situation, such as a natural disaster.  This includes activating our incident command structure under the leadership of Vice President Melynda Huskey and working with campus leadership and regional public health partners to help colleges and departments take steps that can minimize disruptions to student learning, such as assessing their readiness to conduct class activities online or through Canvas, should that be required, and ensuring students and employees who are ill are properly supported so they can stay home and recover.

Further guidance for staff, faculty and other academic personnel will be forthcoming, and regular updates will be shared via Western’s home page, Western Today, campus-wide emails and official social media channels.

What you can do
Many people are asking what they can do. Community preparation helps us support and care for each other.  Here are actions you can take to help us all stay as healthy as possible.

Please also refer to and share the WWU Student Health Center FAQ which is developed in close consultation with public health officials and includes information about considerations for travel, steps to take if you feel sick and resources for students, faculty and staff. There are also updates available from the Washington State Department of Health and county public health departments.  

Perhaps the most important step that you can take is to practice good hygiene.  This includes:

  • Stay home from work and school when you feel sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and immediately dispose of the tissue.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water are not available use a 60-95% alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

 

Data on COVID-19 is still emerging, and the Washington State Department of Health is reporting that while the immediate health risk from COVID-19 has increased with the newly diagnosed cases in our region, for the general public it still remains low.  And as a reminder, the vast majority of individuals with the disease experience mild symptoms.

Additionally, it is vital that we support each other and act as a community, avoiding acts of discrimination and bias, and showing compassion for those affected by this disease.

Again, we are taking all necessary precautions and we will continue to provide you with updates as we have them, including through university-wide email messages when warranted and on the Student Health Center FAQ.

For general questions and concerns we are creating a dedicated campus hotline and will send that contact information out shortly.  For students, if you have a specific health concern please contact the Student Health Center at 360-650-3400.  For employees with specific health concerns, please contact your primary care provider.  Additional information is also available on the Whatcom County Health Department website.

 

Sabah Randhawa

President