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Univ. of Idaho urges students to avoid travel over Labor Day weekend

The university president's message comes as the rate of coronavirus infection has significantly increased in neighboring Whitman County.

Editor's note: Above video is a previous report on classes beginning at the University of Idaho

MOSCOW, Idaho — As a holiday weekend approaches, leaders at the University of Idaho are strongly encouraging students to avoid travel as COVID-19 cases spike in neighboring Whitman County. 

In a memo sent to students, faculty and staff, UI President Scott Green said university leaders "strongly encourage students to remain in Moscow until the Fall Break, including over Labor Day." The university is asking those who do travel over Labor Day weekend to be tested for COVID-19 no sooner than six days after their return or at the first sign of symptoms. 

Students who need help scheduling an appointment for asymptomatic testing can email covid19questions@uidaho.edu. 

"With the significant increase in infection rate in Pullman, we appreciate your heightened observance of Healthy Vandal protocols. Whitman County has had 350 cases and climbing in the past 10 days — this is significantly more than we had in our entire initial screening," the memo reads. "Care and caution should be taken by all employees and students as these are our colleagues, friends and neighbors and many members of our campus community live in Whitman County. We owe it to each other to act responsibly."

Adjusted for population size, Pullman has one of the fastest-growing coronavirus outbreaks in the nation, according to a New York Times data dashboard. The city is home to Washington State University. 

RELATED: 'We're really disturbed by the numbers': WSU responds to Pullman's surging COVID-19 cases

Based on numbers from the last two weeks, Pullman has 5.9 new cases of coronavirus per every 1,000 residents, according to the dashboard.

On Wednesday, Sept. 2 the Whitman County Health Department reported 59 new positive cases of the coronavirus, for a total of 618 cases. All but one of the new cases were reported in people under the age of 40.  

Many of Pullman's new coronavirus cases have occurred since WSU students returned to the area, regardless of the university's move to offer classes online.

RELATED: Pullman Police: Ten tickets given to people hosting parties in the last six days

In-person classes began at the University of Idaho on Monday, Aug. 24. All students were required to test negative for COVID-19 before returning to their classrooms. 

Every student living on campus must also be tested, even if they are participating in online classes.

RELATED: Fall classes start at University of Idaho with COVID-19 precautions in place

The University of Idaho's testing lab will remain open until the viral threat of COVID-19 is diminished. As the university shifts to surveillance sampling, labs will also support testing in the region.

Due to Labor Day Travel, the university planned to begin surveillance testing the week of Sept. 13, but those efforts may begin sooner due to the increasing infection rate in Whitman County. 

Surveillance testing means that random samples of people will be selected and tested for COVID-19, regardless of whether they have been exposed to the virus or if they are showing symptoms.    

Those who experience COVID-19 symptoms at the University of Idaho should quarantine themselves and call 208-885-6693 to coordinate testing at Gritman's Martin Wellness Center. 

Green previously sent a memo to all students and faculty several days after students returned to the UI campus and reports were made of off-campus parties.  

The Moscow Police Department and UI Dean of Students are now following up on the reports of off-campus parties. Students will be disciplined for continued disregard of the Healthy Vandal Pledge up to and including expulsion, according to the memo.

Fraternity and Sorority Life disciplinary processes will be followed should the university identify any UI Greek Life organization not adhering to the rules. The memo states punishment could range from relocating first-year students or closing the chapter.

RELATED: Gonzaga, Univ. of Idaho students could face consequences for partying