Serving Franklin County, WA

EWU, Cheney issue coronavirus enforcement notice

CHENEY – While education is their preferred first choice of enforcement, Cheney and Eastern Washington University law enforcement are prepared to take sterner measures with students who continue to violation safety protocols spelled out by the state and/or Spokane County Health District to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In a joint statement today, police officials with both agencies said – while not anticipating arrests, issuing citations or taking individual to jail – officers “will intervene with more punitive actions to address violations” to enforce specific safety requirements.

Individuals violating a proclamation requirement regarding face masks and social distancing could be charged with a gross misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a year in jail. Violators of an order issued by local health officials or the state Board of Health requiring similar measures could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100 and/or 90 days in jail.

Finally, individuals who fail to disperse from a party or gathering per requirements could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $100 and/or 90 days in jail.

Violations involving off-campus EWU students will be forwarded to the university’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. Office officials could then take action in addition to criminal or civil process through the university’s Student Conduct Code.

Officials stressed in the Sept. 16 release announcing the moves that law enforcement’s first and preferred method of dealing with individuals or groups who do not comply with safety requirements is education on the various orders put in place to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

“Our shared intent is not to infringe on anyone’s rights, but to stop the spread of the virus and to help ensure the health and safety of persons in our community, to prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed and as a means to re-open our businesses and educational institutions to unrestricted, in-person patronage and/or attendance,” officials said.

EWU students are slated to begin fall quarter instruction Sept. 26. While most of the instruction will be online, some in-person classes will take place on campus for courses that could not be effectively moved to a virtual format. Additionally, roughly 600 students are expected to occupy the university’s residence halls – with one student per room – while other students will likely return to local apartment complexes and other off-campus accommodations.

As universities resume instruction, many institutions have been faced with the spread of the virus on their campuses and communities because of student activities such as parties. Students returning to Washington State University in late August have been identified as the sources of a spread that has made Pullman one of the fastest growing COVID-19 outbreak locations in the nation when adjusted for population, and elevated Whitman County’s case rate to 1,254.7 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period between Aug. 22 – Sept. 2, according to data from the state Health Department.

Prior to students returning, Whitman County had a case rate of 71.8 per 100,000 between Aug. 2 – Aug. 18. The county had kept its case rate in single digits since the outbreak began in March to the May 26 – June 8 period when it jumped to 14 per 100,000.

John McCallum can be reached at [email protected].


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