COVID-19 cases

The reopening of bars and restaurants following Spokane County's entry into Phase 3 of the Washington Recovery Plan has been credited with the rise in COVID-19 cases at GU.

COVID-19 cases at GU are the highest they have been this school year. The positivity rate for COVID-19 cases in the GU community has been sitting at an overall rate of 1.36%, although this past week the positivity rate has jumped to 8.2%, with 87 cases. 

On Tuesday, students received an email containing a letter from the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) saying the number of positive cases at GU have more than tripled following Washington’s move to Phase 3. 

“We attribute these increases to several factors: increased patronage in bars, restaurants and other social venues; the warmer spring weather leading to loosened restrictions on social gatherings; COVID-19 fatigue that has resulted in reduced mask wearing and social distancing; and COVID-19 variants that appear more easily transmitted between people,” the letter said.

The SRHD urged students to “take a pause” on social gatherings outside the household for the next week in order to lower case levels and avoid the re-implementation of Phase 2 guidelines. 

The letter also announced that as of April 15, all adults over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and GU students and employees will have the opportunity to get vaccinated in the Martin Centre Field House on April 19-20.

GSBA President Fese Elango and Vice President Taylor Sipila released an email March 31 condemning the actions of those who attended the mass gathering in response to the GU men’s basketball win against UCLA. 

“COVID is not over because we decide that we are over it, and the pandemic doesn’t take a break to celebrate basketball victories,” the email said.

The email pointed out the effects the events had on the health and safety of the greater Spokane community, especially those who are a part of more vulnerable populations.

“Gonzaga is a high socio-economic status, predominantly white university situated within a lower income, elderly, BIPOC community and the privilege associated with being a Zag was made loud and clear after yesterday’s events,” the email said.

Elango and Sipila’s email concluded by urging those who were in attendance March 30 to quarantine and get tested for COVID-19. 

Students have taken to social media to express their disappointment with fellow Zags who attended the party.

Sophomore Ashley Rubio posted a TikTok that included screenshots from students’ public Instagram accounts to bring the incident to the university’s attention.

“In order for [GU] to do any action they need a lot of feedback or people speaking up, so I was like alright TikTok is very popular amongst everyone right now, so I’ll just make one showing all the photos that students have posted of them being at the couch burning and rallying in the Logan Neighborhoods,” Rubio said.

After posting the TikTok, Rubio said she received a mixture of positive and negative feedback, including her post being briefly taken down by TikTok for allegedly violating community guidelines.

“It’s just not fair, especially with all the recent things happening with police brutality within the U.S., and we have GU students willingly taking photos with Spokane PD,” Rubio said. “It was just very frustrating to me and I just didn’t feel good staying silent about it, so I knew making a TikTok would get more people’s attention.”

Rubio said she is concerned about returning to in-person instruction for the fall semester due to her observed lack of accountability on behalf of the administration.

“I don’t know how much GU can enforce that or what consequences they can give because obviously it doesn’t seem like they give any consequences to anything that happens on campus whether it’s related to COVID-19 or the racist acts on campus, it just doesn’t seem like they do anything,” Rubio said. 

In response to the couch burning incident during the mass gathering of students after the men's basketball win against UCLA, Kent Porterfield, vice provost of student affairs, said students identified as being involved in the incident will be under investigation for code of conduct violations. 

Taylor Jordan, the Clery compliance and behavioral intervention team coordinator, said that COVID-19 cases are increasing largely because of more students going to local bars and restaurants, as well as multihousehold indoor gatherings.

In Spokane County, the two-week case rate is at 167.7 per 100,000 people, according to the SRHD website.

Porterfield said he worries about students being fatigued and numb to messages from the university about COVID-19 safety, and encourages students to get through the final stretch. 

“There really is something special about the culture, there really is a ‘Zags help Zags’ kind of culture here and I think sometimes we have to pause for a moment and put it into that context,” Porterfield said. “Is our behavior helping other Zags?” 

When cases start to reach 200 new cases per day, Porterfield said, that is the point where we would have to move back to Phase 2, which would impact end of the year activities, such as commencement. Currently, the rate of new cases is 145 to 160 new cases per day in Spokane County. 

“I don’t have a particular thing that I think is going to turn this around but I can tell you that no intervention is likely to mean that we are going to continue to see an uptick,” Porterfield said.

Porterfield suggested that students limit gatherings, gather outside, wear masks and social distance as much as possible when gathering in addition to taking a week or two break from visiting local drinking establishments in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and decrease the number of cases.

Jordan said students should pay attention to their symptoms, even if they don’t suspect they have COVID-19, utilize the testing resources that the university provides and participate in surveillance testing.

Even if students have received their second dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, they will still be required to quarantine unless it has been a full two weeks after the second dose, Jordan said.

For more information regarding GU’s COVID-19 response, visit https://www.gonzaga.edu/zagon.

Devan Iyomasa is a news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @devaniyomasa. Lillian Piel is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: @lillianpiel.

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