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Westminster announces Spring COVID-19 updates, flexible start to semester

Woman sits out of focus at a table in the library with a mask on and a sign about masks in front of her.
Sofie Grapuner, junior sociology major and public health minor, studies in Giovale Library in compliance with Westminster College mask policies Sept. 22. Westminster College announced the first two weeks of Spring semester will “be flexible” to mitigate the impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to the COVID updates webpage. On Jan. 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 57,898,239 COVID-19 cases in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Photo courtesy of Ella Viesturs. Image description: A woman sits in the library at her computer with a mask on. In front of her is a sign saying face coverings are required in the area.

Westminster College announced the first two weeks of Spring semester will “be flexible” to mitigate the impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to the COVID updates webpage. Professors may adjust the modality of their courses to be fully in-person, hybrid or fully remote, according to the webpage, and students may choose to attend remotely during the two week period. 

The college is also increasing COVID-19 safety protocols because of the Omicron variant. The updated guidelines advise students, staff and faculty to:

  • Get a booster shot
  • Get tested before returning to campus 
  • Do not eat or drink in classrooms or the Giovale Library
  • Keep wearing masks indoors
  • Upgrade masks to KN95, N95, or make sure a cloth mask is multi-layer with an insert
  • Stay home when sick
  • Report exposure or diagnosis

Westminster’s flexible start to the semester will continue through Jan. 28, according to an email sent by Dean of Students Dr. Glenn Smith Jan. 14. In-person attendance for designated courses will resume Jan. 31, according to the email.

“The Omicron surge is expected to peak and then sharply decline as the month progresses,” said Smith in a COVID update email. “We can continue our community of care approach—mitigating the level of risk while fulfilling our educational mission by providing in-person living and learning environments.”

COVID-19 Cases On Campus

There were 18 active cases of COVID-19 reported during the week of Jan. 7–13, according to the coronavirus resources webpage

New diagnoses reported within the past week reached 49, creating a total of 350 cases reported since July 2020, according to the webpage.

Protocol Impact on Campus Life

Increased safety measures for Spring semester include no eating or drinking in classrooms or Giovale Library (with breaks scheduled for longer class times), according to Smith in a COVID-19 update email. 

For the first two weeks of the semester, food and drink are only allowed in the Shaw Student Center dining area and the Bassis Student Center coffee shop area, according to Jessica Brazell-Brayboy, associate dean of students for campus life, in a COVID safety email. 

In Shaw, tables are spaced out, masks are required in the dining hall whenever not eating or drinking, and food will be served in to-go boxes to allow students “greater choice” over where to eat, according to Dean of Students Dr. Glenn Smith in an email.  

Two N95 masks were delivered to each on-campus resident, per the request for students to upgrade their masks, according to an email sent by Smith Jan. 13. House residents can pick up masks from the Office of Residence Life during regular business hours, according to an ORL email sent Jan. 11. 

“We know [the mask upgrade request] created a burden of expense for some and for others there has been trouble finding a credible source,” Smith said in an email. “We hope to get more in soon so we can get everyone through this current uptick in cases due to the Omicron variant.”

The masks are free and available for all faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students, according to the email. Pick-up locations include:

  • In front of the Dean of Students office
  • The desk at the Health, Wellness and Athletic Center 
  • The Purple Basket, located in the Office of Residence Life in Carlson Hall

The college will also adjust campus testing, isolation and quarantine policy to align with evolving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, according to the COVID updates webpage. Events on campus during the COVID-19 surge may be moved to virtual platforms or may restrict food and beverage as well, according to the webpage.

Westminster College will continue to monitor community transmission rates and will adjust campus safety measures as needed, according to the webpage. Visit Westminster’s coronavirus resource page for detailed campus safety, testing, case counts and vaccine information.

Spring Semester Move-In

Spring move-in safety measures require all residential students to wear a mask in the common spaces of residence halls until Jan. 24, according to an email update from the Office of Residence Life Housing.

Mandatory masking in the residence halls will be reassessed and communicated to all residential students prior to the end of the two weeks of flexibility, according to the email. Any resident who does not mask in the residence hall common areas will be reported to Student Conduct and fined $25, according to the announcement. 

The email also states students must also provide a negative COVID-19 test to move in. Any resident that enters the residence halls without reporting a negative test through eRezLife will be reported to Student Conduct and fined $200, according to the update.

Recent COVID-19 Trends – Local and National

Due to high transmission rates in Salt Lake County, Mayor Jenny Wilson signed an order for a 30-day mask mandate Friday, Jan. 7. 

As of Saturday, Jan. 8, Salt Lake County reported a 7-day total of 21,008 active COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker. Close to 50,000 tests were performed in Salt Lake County as of Jan. 2, with the positivity rate rising to 30.99% by Jan. 6. 

Salt Lake is just one of the 3,197 counties in the U.S. experiencing high transmission rates, including every county in Utah except Daggett, for which no data has been reported. Salt Lake does, however, have the highest case count of any county in the state, according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker.
On Jan. 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 57,898,239 COVID-19 cases in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. The 7-day moving average, reported on Jan. 5, was 586,391 active cases in the United States. Over 700,000 cases were reported Jan. 5, which more than doubled the January 2021 peak.

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