UW Bothell Begins Preparations for Returning Students in the Fall

Written by: Jason Anderson, Drew Buren, Danny Carrillo-Miranda, Racquel Farrar, Zachary Leon, Zeyao Li, and Alex Turville; student reporters

As Autumn quarter approaches, UW Bothell’s plans continue to develop as the pandemic evolves and vaccination and mask mandates are changing. While Washington State Governor Jay Inslee said the plan is to have all operations running with no restrictions by June 30th, UW campuses have begun to put out a plan, however, there are still many questions unanswered.

The Dean of Student Affairs, Tim Wilson made it apparent that while UW Bothell may not have specific concrete plans, they are constantly trying to coordinate their planning with recent developments by the CDC. “We’re trying to take it one step at a time and trying to do this dance to where we know we need to plan for what’s ahead, and we need to keep an eye on what’s happening right in front of us,” said Wilson. UW has made it apparent that they are trying to “follow the science” and often make announcements to summarize and adapt to new CDC protocols.

The Dean of Student Affairs, Tim Wilson, is focused on UW Bothell providing a safe “new normal” for the upcoming fall quarter. Wilson made it apparent that while UW Bothell may not have specific concrete plans, they are constantly trying to coordinate their planning with recent developments by the CDC. “We’re trying to take it one step at a time and trying to do this dance to where we know we need to plan for what’s ahead, and we need to keep an eye on what’s happening right in front of us,” said Wilson. UW has made it apparent that they are trying to “follow the science” and often make announcements to summarize and adapt to new CDC protocols.

“We are really still trying to mirror the CDC recommendations to wear masks, even with vaccinations,” said Dr. Grace Lasker, a professor, and the director of health studies. When asking Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs, Sharon Jones on UW Bothell’s plans, being in accordance with state and CDC guidelines, she said, “We also recognize that we don’t quite know what the public health guidelines are going to be, so we have a scenario for 6-foot distancing if we need that in the class, and then 3-foot distancing if we need that in the classroom. And with 6-foot distancing, our capacity for on-campus classes drops to about 20%, and then for a 3-foot distance, our capacity drops to just under 50%.” Still, UW has not released any official documentation supporting these guidelines.

While UW struggles to release an official document, schools like WSU and Duke have released guidelines for operating during summer terms for both the students and the faculty. On May 18th, UW sent out an email that clarified that students were required to get vaccinations while staff were only suggested and that they were still working on a policy and student exceptions.

It wasn’t until June 3rd, that UW had released an updated and finalized policy stating that staff were also going to be required to be vaccinated, which is reassuring but appeared to take much longer than the student decision. These policy changes and lack of clarification can lead to confusion and anxiety from the staff and students alike.

“I think it would be safer if students were able to choose virtual learning or going in person depending on if the student is vaccinated or not…before going online, there tended to be a lot of students in the hallways and classrooms at once which can be risky for those who live or work with high-risk people.”

Sung Ho Park, a fourth year student

Wilson affirmed, “I am not at all surprised to hear even at this point, that there are some folks who are feeling nervous, maybe a little bit anxious about being back in person. I know I’m hearing that on the staff and faculty side. So it would not surprise me to hear about that on the student side as well.”

UW Bothell Professor David L. Stokes from the environmental science department discussed what a safe reopening could look like to him. He said, “in my personal opinion, and this isn’t official policy, is that every faculty member who can do so safely…” should get the vaccine. While the email to staff merely reiterated that masks are still required and that they are encouraged to get vaccinated, it said that cases were “falling” in Washington state, which is not indicated across all data sets.

With Washington State beginning to roll out upwards of 40,000 vaccines per day, COVID-19 data provided by the Washington State Department of Health (COVID-19 transmission across Washington State) shows that cases are decreasing as vaccinations rise, confirming the effectiveness of vaccinations in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

When the CDC stated that people no longer needed to wear a mask as long as they had received both vaccinations on May 13th, it made no mention of precautions that are to be taken against the spreading of variant mutant strains of COVID-19. There are currently two variant strains; the B.1.1.7 variant and the P.1 variant of COVID-19 that are present in Washington state. The report concludes that COVID-19 cases are beginning to decline slightly statewide and many counties including King County are experiencing a downward trend in cases.

In regards to Bothell’s plans to verify vaccinations, “all verification processes will be coordinated through the Seattle campus, in other words, all three campuses will be under the same vaccination policy.” Dean Wilson also stated that the process for students confirming their vaccinations would not involve “…taking a photo of your vaccination card and submitting it.” The administration is still discussing how to implement verification, but their goal is not to make it difficult or overly complicated for returning students.

In terms of campus reopening, the library has been one of the most in-demand services among students and is also awaiting the university’s decisions. Since the beginning, the UW tri-campus libraries have been closed throughout quarantine. After an interview with Sarah Leadley, the Director of the UWB/Cascadia Library, there is little insight into how the UW libraries have been operating during their closing.

“One thing that I think has been working really well is our contact-free pickup service – so at all three campuses we are a one library free campus system, so Seattle, Tacoma, and Bothell, people can request books and media, and appear, in our case – the promenade, and be handed a paper bag including all their materials. And again, from all the UW libraries, there is a courier that drives between all three campuses delivering books regardless of where they’re held in the UW system,”

Sarah Leadley, Director of the UWB/Cascadia Library

Another thing the library has been very successful in (even before COVID-19), is their 24/7 librarian research help, as Leadley said, “the UW libraries, they are really well-positioned prior to COVID-19 because one of our more popular services, even before COVID-19, was our 24/7 research help, so that’s something that everyone (students, staff, and faculty) can use anytime. We monitor that so if it wasn’t one of our UW Bothell and Cascadia librarians whose helping one of our students at 3 o’clock in the morning, we can go in and look at that transcript and make sure that the student got the information they needed based on our knowledge of the curriculum and the courses and the faculty.”

It is a hopeful plan for the UW Libraries to open back up once the UW campus reopens. However, if plans backfire, we expect to see UW tri-campus libraries operating the same way as when they were closed during quarantine. When asked about how the libraries would operate once being reopened, Leadley said, “We’re waiting for specific guidance.” It will not be decided whether the library will reopen back in the fall until late June to mid-July.

With little indication of what campus life will be like, UW Bothell seems to have little structure so far and is hinging on all restrictions being lifted in July. As students and teachers alike begin demanding more answers, the school is keen on getting information out soon that considers all those on campus.

The U.S. Department of Education has provided a COVID-19 Handbook, A Roadmap to Reopening Safety and Meeting all Students’ Needs  (https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/reopening-2.pdf) as official guidance and standards for the schools reopening, detailing these five key prevention strategies for schools to take:

1. Universal and correct wearing of masks;

2. Physical distancing;

3. Handwashing and respiratory etiquette;

4. Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including proper school ventilation; and

5. Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with guidelines from relevant state, local, territorial, and tribal health departments.

Most students also want answers on classroom capacity and if there are any alternatives to on-campus attendance since online classes are no longer at the forefront of the institution’s focus.

“I’m honestly a bit nervous about going back to campus next year… temperature checks before classes would be nice, and also an option to still remain remote would be nice too for [students] that aren’t vaccinated.”

Xingyu Liu, a first year student

UW Bothell has indeed addressed some of these strategies and is working to address more but has stated that they are working with the best of interests. “The answers are not always clear. But we’re doing our very best,” said Wilson when asked if there were any final words he had for reassurance. “We’re not looking to leave anybody behind.”

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