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Successful Semester Amid a Global Pandemic

Semester during a pandemic

Western senior, Ryan Barnhouse is pursuing both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Exercise & Sport Science. That’s a tall order in the age of a global pandemic, when many students are putting their dreams on hold; but what Ryan found at Western this fall semester was the support he needed to continue his studies.

“The community has really come together,” said Ryan. “Last semester everyone had to leave and coming back I think everyone has done a great job working together trying to offer a community to students—something Western does so well.”

Changes in Spring 2020

In spring 2020 Western was forced to shut its doors and finish classes online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the closure university administrators developed a plan in collaboration with Gunnison County Health and Human Services to safely reopen in August. That plan included hosting in-person classes in outdoor locations, requiring facial coverings and encouraging responsible behavior. Regular updates were provided to both the campus and other stakeholders, such as parents, through weekly “Western Strong” messages.

“Western Strong has been a key piece in communicating to students, faculty, staff and parents regarding changes needed to be made due to COVID-19,” said Vice President of Enrollment & Student Success, Abel Chávez. “Through positive encouragement and a unified plan, we are achieving our goal of educating future leaders.”

For a majority of the semester, the plan worked like a charm. From Aug. 25 through mid-October, no cases of the novel coronavirus were reported on the Western campus. Students thrived in a healthy and somewhat “normal” environment.

“It’s been very comforting seeing how Western is handling COVID especially when they say they want us back and the guidelines are the actions that support them saying they want us back,” said Precious Allen, a junior in Biology. “It’s been very comforting — the steps that Western has been taking.”

Adjusting to Rising Cases

However, Western has not been completely immune to the pandemic. As cases rose nationwide once again with the return to indoor settings, so too, Western was impacted. Through a partnership with the county’s Public Health department, administrators took swift action to contain transmission. In fact, 75% of those who received a positive test result during the surge were already in quarantine, decreasing the likelihood of second-generation infection.

The decision was made to finish the last two weeks of the semester with online instruction and transition smoothly to the break. Testing was provided for students and staff, and those departing were provided guidance about what to do during travel and the first weeks of living at home.

Looking Toward the Future

With spring semester just around the corner, more planning and adaptation will take place to once again give students, faculty and staff a safe place to learn. Administrators are examining what worked and what could be done better to keep coronavirus at bay.

“We are in this together and we are not alone in the challenges we have faced,” said Chávez. “We’re focusing on the adaptations to be made for the Spring term, as we look to ensure Western is a safe learning environment.”



Author Credit: Chris Rourke

Photo Credit: Loren Fitzpatrick

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