EVERETT — Thousands of college and university students are set for online coursework this week and beyond because of the coronavirus and concerns about its disease spreading further.
And there will be no classes at all for some students at a Mukilteo school and across the Snohomish School District. Campuses in those communities are getting a thorough cleaning after positive COVID-19 tests involving employees.
The latest round of recently confirmed cases also includes a resident of Josephine Caring Community in Stanwood. That city declared a state of emergency.
The Snohomish Health District is investigating the cases at the Josephine Caring Center, officials said Monday. Health District Interim Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters and Josephine Caring Community CEO Terry Robertson have scheduled a news conference at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“Our teams are investigating and we will be able to share more details tomorrow morning,” Spitters said.
The patient, a woman in her 70s, had been a resident at the care center for an unrelated condition. The COVID-19 test result was obtained after she was taken to an area hospital.
Colleges go online
Cascadia College, Everett Community College and Washington State University Everett, meanwhile, began offering virtual classes Monday in the wake of the illness’ growth.
On Thursday, Everett Community College announced that a student tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and that the school would close temporarily.
The next day the college said most classes would go online instead of meeting on campus through the end of the winter quarter, which concludes after final exams March 17 to 20. Vocational courses in aviation, cosmetology and welding, and lab-based science, technology, engineering and math work, can continue to meet in person.
“We’re kind of leaving it flexible for the instructors to determine,” Everett Community College President Daria J. Willis said Monday. “We’re doing the best we can with the way this is morphing and shaping in our society.”
Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University and the University of Washington also announced plans for online classes recently.
Everett Community College’s decision and proximity prompted WSU Everett — both are in north Everett along Broadway — to follow suit through this week and spring break after that. About 250 students are enrolled for the semester at WSU Everett.
“The Everett Community College (main campus) is right across the street, essentially, from our campus,” said Phil Weiler, vice president for marketing and communications for WSU. “There’s a large degree of students going back and forth between those two facilities.”
About 12,000 students are enrolled at EvCC for the quarter. Some people on campus potentially were exposed because of their proximity to the student who tested positive for the disease. The college, with the Snohomish Health District, is tracking their status.
“So far, so good,” Willis said. “We haven’t heard of any other positive cases.”
Daniel Albert, a sophomore at EvCC and editor in chief of the student newspaper The Clipper, said the campus seemed to operate normally prior to last week’s announcements.
He found mostly empty parking lots on campus Monday morning — a rare sight.
“It felt more like a Friday than it did a Monday,” Albert said.
Support services such as the library, tutoring and writing center still were open at both campuses and will help students who may not otherwise have access to the necessary technology for virtual coursework.
Custodians did a deep clean of the Everett Community College campus, with an emphasis on “high-touch points” such as desk surfaces, door knobs, elevator buttons and windows.
The postponement of the Northwest Athletic Conference basketball tournaments at the school’s gym over the weekend allowed custodial time formerly marked for that event to focus on general campus cleaning.
Final exams aren’t likely to be cancelled or suspended, but “anything is possible,” Willis said.
The spring term begins April 6. By then, Willis hopes, classes can resume normally.
WSU Everett is the first campus in the Washington State University system to change academicsbecause of the coronavirus. The lessons learned may shape how other WSU campuses adjust, if necessary.
“For us, it’s a good test case for how well it works for us to move online,” Weiler said.
Cascadia College in Bothell announced its change through the rest of the quarter Monday morning. There were no COVID-19 diagnoses of anyone on campus, the college said in a news release.
Washington has 162 cases
To date, at least 162 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Washington and 22 people have died, according to the Washington Department of Health.
In Snohomish County, 44 people are confirmed or presumed positive for the disease and 76 are awaiting test results, according to the Snohomish Health District. Thirteen of the confirmed cases are related in some way to the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland — presumably patients, employees or visitors.
One of the presumed positive cases could be the Josephine Caring Community resident, who tested positive while at a hospital for an issue unrelated to the virus, the care facility said in a statement. The residential center instituted new rules for infection control, including no child care in the nursing home, no group activities or dining, and no visitors. Residents and staff were monitored for symptoms.
The center also hosts a child care center, which has put measures in place to keep the children separate from residents.
By Monday night, the Boeing Co. had sent out a notice to its workers that an employee at the Everett plant had tested positive for COVID-19, The Seattle Times reported.
Boeing has asked all co-workers of the infected employee who were in close contact to remain home to self-quarantine and self-monitor. It said it has conducted a thorough cleaning of the work areas and common spaces.
It also was announced Monday night that a Snohomish School District employee tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, all Snohomish School District schools will be closed today. All school, athletic and other activities have been canceled.
And in the Mukilteo School District, officials closed the campus at Challenger Elementary in south Everett on Tuesday and Wednesday after learning a staff member tested positive.
The virus seems to spread easily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through respiratory droplets from a person’s cough or sneeze, either directly to another person or onto a surface.
Quorum by phone
The Snohomish County Council took a step on Tuesday to ensure that the governing body can continue to meet — even if more than one council member is joining via phone — amid the coronavirus crisis.
Typically, a council member cannot be counted for quorum purposes if he or she is participating by phone. However, the council unanimously voted on Monday to suspend that rule while the county’s emergency declaration is in place.
“I just want to make sure we have all the tools that we can because we don’t know what this public health emergency is going to bring to us,” Council Vice Chair Stephanie Wright said. “This just ensures that if we have members that have other obligations, or if they have a family member that’s sick, that we can still participate and meet as a body, even virtually.”
Under the county code, quorum constitutes three of the board’s five members. The council currently has four members because it hasn’t yet chosen someone to fill the seat of former Councilman Terry Ryan, who stepped down in February to become the county’s first director of aerospace economic development.
Limited viewing of bill signings
Gov. Jay Inslee will not conduct public bill signings for remaining legislation of the 2020 session, his legislative director announced Monday. This could affect several hundred bills expected to emerge from the session which ends Thursday.
“This is one extra precaution we’re taking to maintain public health standards and minimize COVID-19 exposure in large, social settings,” Drew Shirk, Inslee’s legislative director, wrote in a message to lawmakers and legislative staff.
Typically, when Inslee signs a new law, he is encircled by those who worked to get it enacted including lawmakers, lobbyists and members of the public. Crowds can range in size from three to 30, or more.
Often the governor will sign several bills in one sitting. Such sessions attract dozens of people who line up in the hallway outside the governor’s office, waiting their turn to join him.
Now attendance will be strictly limited to a bill’s primary sponsor in each chamber plus one guest, and members of the media. An RSVP is required to get in the door.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.