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Student details WU support given after testing positive for COVID-19

Ryleigh Norgrove

Staff writer

On August 29, the Willamette University Reopening Operations Committee (ROC) announced over email that two employees had tested positive for COVID-19 on August 28. One employee has not been on campus since August 21, while the other was last on campus on August 27. Neither employee was in close contact with anyone at the university.

This comes less than a week into the first school year, and Willamette University has reported three total cases since the school’s reopening on August 24th.

On August 24, the first day of in-person classes, the ROC sent a mass email to students stating, "an individual working on campus tested positive for the Coronavirus." The email reported that the individual lives off campus, and has been in isolation since August 22. Marion County Public Health is "coordinating contact tracing." This first case is an on-campus employee, but also a student in their third year.

The student made the decision to be tested for Covid-19 after traveling to Salem to begin the school year. At the time of testing, they did not exhibit symptoms.

Willamette’s first case, whose identity is withheld to ensure medical privacy, spoke very highly of the University's response. “They were very supportive….I got a call this morning [August 24th] first thing at 8 [am] from Lisa Landreman making sure of where I’m at, if I’m able to quarantine or if they need to provide a room, or if I needed help getting food.”

“Overall I was expecting to be told to go to remote classes and figure out the rest on my own but instead they were very invested in making sure I could deal with a 14 day isolation,” said the student.

Nearly all communication between students and administrators has come in the form of emails on behalf of the ROC.

“As we've acknowledged repeatedly, the coronavirus is present throughout the state including in the Salem community. With nearly three thousand students and employees, it is nearly inevitable that asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus will from time to time be present on our campus,” said Tim Cobb, Vice President for Marketing and Communications, and spokesperson for the WURC. “Our goal is to limit, and hopefully prevent, transmission of the coronavirus between members of our community. It is for that reason that we have established rules on social distancing and the wearing of masks both indoors and out, introduced enhanced cleaning protocols and air handling systems, and promoted habits like handwashing and self-monitoring for symptoms.”

As of now, Willamette is operating at the direction of the public health guidelines set by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, the Oregon Health Authority, local county health departments and the CDC.

“We would not be opening if we weren’t able to do it in line with the requirements and recommendations of the CDC, OHA, and HECC for how to reopen for in-person instruction in ways that support our mission while mitigating the spread of the virus in our community,” said Cobb.

Many students, both current and alumnis have been intensely debating WU’s reopening online. As for the student’s opinion of WU's reopening, “I’ve seen a lot of responses to the campus’s reopening plan, and I agree with the criticisms about opening dorms... but generally I think the campus was going to have to open somewhat and it seems they are trying. I can’t think of much to improve, especially after the student forum’s help in rethinking it [the reopening of WU]."

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