J-Term at PLU and the Omicron Variant
Dear PLU Community,
Thank you for all of your extraordinary efforts this semester. Students, staff, and faculty across the university have been actively working with and for each other to keep one another healthy and safe—and we want to say thank you for that again, Lutes.
J-Term at PLU
As we look forward to J-Term, the COVID-19 Omicron variant situation is constantly evolving. Guidance from the CDC and Washington State — along with on-campus metrics — will continue to inform campus operations. Check your PLU email and the PLU website for updates that may impact your return to campus.
You may have heard that the University of Washington and Western Washington University have announced that their Winter 2022 quarters will begin online in order to allow for testing and boosters. PLU’s J-Term differs from theirs in that our largest course enrollment is 40 students, and our students are taking at most one lecture/lab course plus a PE class, whereas students at these schools are starting a regular quarter and moving between several courses with much larger class sizes. Rather than needing a week to test and secure boosters for 46,000 students, our smaller J-Term population — 1,800 students — means we can implement risk mitigation efforts immediately. There were zero cases linked to classroom transmission at PLU during the fall semester.
At this time, we do not have evidence to suggest that delaying the start of in-person instruction is warranted at PLU. We are, however, asking that the entire PLU community — students, staff, and faculty — all continue to make choices that mitigate their personal risk and the risk to the community as a whole. J-Term starts less than two weeks away, and the choices you make over winter break may impact your ability to participate in classes fully or return to work.
NOTE: We strongly encourage all members of the PLU community to proactively test on their own before returning for J-Term. It is important to take this step, regardless of vaccination status, out of care for the PLU community so you know where you stand as an individual. Information on off-campus testing and our expanded AUC testing hours for J-Term is available on the COVID-19 webpage.
While details and information on the new Omicron variant are still developing, early indications are that Omicron spreads more rapidly and is more transmissible than previous variants. Like the rest of the world around us, PLU may see an increase in positive cases in the coming months due to this new variant. A number of campus partners are actively monitoring the case rate on campus, as well as close contacts, those with related symptoms, and those requiring quarantine or isolation.
Our ability to monitor and manage these factors is directly related to our ability to maintain an in-person learning community. We can continue to be successful in 2022 with the ongoing diligence of our campus community. Get your booster when eligible, proactively test when returning to campus from break, and stay home if sick.
We have the tools
The uncertainty around a new developing variant can cause anxiety and worry, which are valid concerns. That said, it’s important to focus on the information available to us around what we know works. The CDC still recommends testing, vaccinations, masks, and staying home if sick as our best defenses against the Omicron variant.
PLU utilizes a combination of rapid antigen and PCR tests as part of our robust testing protocol. The PLU Health Center is the primary location for testing of symptomatic students, and the university also operates a testing clinic in the AUC where non-symptomatic students, staff, and faculty can be tested. We are actively expanding our operations to include more advanced testing systems within the PLU Health Center, as well as a partnership with a mobile testing vendor, who will be on campus five days per week during the spring semester.
PLU is a vaccine-required campus. All students, staff, and faculty are required to provide proof of vaccination, or qualify for and file an exemption. External events where masks are removed (when food is served, etc.) require proof of vaccination from guests or a negative PCR test before attendance.
Current research shows that both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are effective against the Omicron variant in reducing severe illness, particularly after a booster dose. Natural immunity alone, from having previously contracted COVID-19, is not proving to be as effective as these vaccines, particularly against the Omicron variant.
PLU strongly recommends that all community members get their booster shots as soon as they are eligible in order to maintain a strong immunity against COVID-19 and its Omicron variant. On-campus booster clinics provided by Pierce County are conveniently located in the PLU Columbia Center, operating Wednesdays and Saturdays from January 5th through the 29th. All members of the community — PLU, Parkland, and beyond — are welcome.
We know that masks add protection, no matter what variant of COVID-19. They help limit the transmission of droplets that can spread the virus when you talk, breathe, or engage in other activities. Masks will continue to be required in all indoor public and common spaces for anyone who is not actively eating or drinking. The CDC provides recommendations for types of masks and the proper fitting of masks; to protect yourself and others, please be sure that your mask is worn properly at all times.
COVID-19 has changed a lot about how we do things at PLU. In 2020, PLU gathered data on classroom ventilation and began utilizing campus spaces to accommodate appropriate airflow for all occupants at capacity. We have also incorporated proof of vaccination or tests into our visitor policies.
We are all PLU together, and we wish each of you a safe, joyful, and restorative winter break.
Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
COVID-19 Site Supervisor
Associate Director of Emergency Programs
COVID-19 Task Force Coordinator
Dean of Social Sciences
Professor of Psychology
Director of Athletics and Recreation
Director of Web Development & Design