With holidays nearing, WKU recommends caution to students


Students head back their residence halls after lunch on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The majority of campus food options are still open while implementing social distancing protocols in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Alexandria Anderson, News reporter

WKU is continuing to take COVID-19 precautions over winter break and is suggesting students to continue to take these precautions on their own time.

David Oliver, director of environmental health and safety, explained the university’s approach to keeping these precautions throughout winter break and adjusting them as the spring semester gets closer.

“During the break we’ll have virtually no one on campus, so there’s not going to be a lot that has to be done if the people element is not here,” Oliver said. “We will, in my department and others, continually monitor the local, regional, state, country and world for movement and increase in those kinds of things [COVID rates] as we lead back up to end the January term and go into the spring semester.”

Oliver stressed  the university will use the continuation of these precautions to decide how best to address the restrictions during the spring semester.

“I think our biggest challenge is that we didn’t see a lot last spring, we didn’t see near the uptick we’re seeing now, so we’re just going to have to monitor that,” Oliver said. “And then obviously coming into the start of the semester we will develop whatever policies or procedures we need to address it coming in.”

If there are any questions about how the university is handling COVID-19 over the break or questions about campus guidelines, there are resources available to explain those queries. Although campus will be closed, Oliver’s team will continue monitoring the university’s COVID situation.

“The COVID line will still be active; we’ll have someone on call for that all during the holiday,” Oliver said. “We will be continually monitoring and we’ll be meeting periodically over the holidays to look at the trajectory of the disease as well as all other hazards, but in this case looking at COVID-19.” 

Oliver and his team are continually comparing WKU’s campus rates of COVID with the local, national and global rates. As vaccination on campus and in our community increases, he is hopeful that it will help with the pandemic. However, he explained how the university is still watchful of any changes in the pandemic.

“I’m hopeful that because of our vaccination rates and everything else we’re going to fare better, but we’re just going to really watch, because there’s so much of that that’s outside of our control,” Oliver said. “That’s really from the university perspective where we are. We will be on constant vigilance, we’ll be constantly monitoring data, we’ll be talking to our public health partners over the holidays, and all of that leading up to the gear up for restart.”

The university currently does not foresee any changes to its COVID-19 precautions for the spring semester. However, Oliver explained the university will keep a careful watch on COVID-19 and further decide if changes need to be made to the current restrictions.

“We’re not anticipating any changes really in as far as how we’ve dealt with it, the thing is looking at the trajectory closer to the start of spring, asking whether or not we’re going to require masks and what that is going to look like,” Oliver said. “But when you think about where we’ve been, with temperature checks and stuff like that, we’ve sort of eased away from that.”

Oliver recommended that members of the WKU community should continue to wear masks if they are in large crowds or big public spaces, as the disease is still active. He stressed the main way for students to protect themselves is to keep careful watch on how they handle COVID-19 procedures.

“What I would say to students is to remain vigilant. As they go to gatherings, particularly if they have older parents, grandparents and relatives, be cognizant ahead of going in,” Oliver said. “Watch for symptoms, to get tested, to wear a mask if you’re around people that have breathing difficulties or other health issues. I think it’s just prudent to do that.”

Susan Eagle, an instructor in the department of public health, explained steps for students to prepare for the spring semester.

“First and foremost, I would suggest that any students, faculty, and staff who are not yet vaccinated but are eligible, get vaccinated as soon as possible. The vaccines are safe and effective, especially against hospitalization and death,” Eagle said. “If you have questions about the vaccine, talk to your health care provider to get accurate information on the benefits and risks of vaccination. Becoming fully vaccinated is the best step you can take now to be prepared for spring semester.”

She also suggested  students understand the risks of traveling over the breaks. Many places have travel restrictions already in place, and it is vital that these restrictions are followed.

“Anyone who is traveling over Thanksgiving or the winter break should be careful; while we all may be tired of the pandemic, it is still going strong. It’s strongly advised to avoid travel unless you are vaccinated,” Eagle said. “Wear a well-fitting mask during transit, in airports or other public spaces, on public transportation or planes. If you are traveling to an area where COVID-19 rates are high, wear a mask indoors even if you are vaccinated.”

For more information about COVID-19 precautions and information on WKU’s campus, Eagle recommended checking the Healthy on the Hill website regularly. She also provided the CDC’s website as a resource for basic advice on how to stay healthy and protect yourself from COVID.

Marilyn Gardner, associate professor and graduate program coordinator of public health, also supports vaccination as the main protection students can receive against COVID-19.

“If you’re not vaccinated, and are able to get vaccinated, please consider doing so. There is ample evidence that the vaccine helps reduce the risk of serious illness and death and reduce the amount of time you can infect others,” Gardner said. “If you are vaccinated, consider getting the booster when you’re able to do so.  Encourage your family members to do so also.”

Alongside Oliver and Eagle, she also encouraged mask-wearing as a protective measure against disease and something that should be continued throughout the winter break.

“Regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask. It’s a simple and effective way to reduce your risk of infection and breakthrough infection,” Gardner said. “More importantly, it keeps you from transmitting COVID to others if you do become infected. If you can’t wear a mask, consider staying at home.”

News reporter Alexandria Anderson can be reached at [email protected]