Linfield requires booster shots, COVID cases rise on McMinnville campus

Anna Frazier, Managing Editor

Linfield University announced on Jan. 13 that all eligible students, faculty, and staff must receive a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccination prior to the start of the spring semester, Feb. 7. Eligibility is determined by whether five or more months have passed since the most recent dose was given. As with the previous vaccination requirements, an exemption process is also available.

Data sourced from Linfield University’s COVID-19 dashboard

Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 24, 105 cases of COVID-19 have been reported on the McMinnville campus, the highest number of cases recorded in one month despite the lower January term student population. Since the pandemic began, the second-highest month was Oct. 2021 at 38 cases, according to Linfield’s COVID data. 

This rise might be attributed to the Omicron variant, which was first detected in late November in South Africa and has since spread across the world due to its high transmissibility. Omicron-caused infections typically result in milder symptoms than with previous variants.

“We’ve been trying for two years to keep people from catching COVID,” said Patricia Haddeland, director of the Linfield Student Health, Wellness and Counseling Center. “We are now at a point that, in spite of doing all the right things, people are still catching COVID. But what is reassuring is they’re not getting particularly sick.”

This uptick in cases is also different from last spring’s outbreak in that scientific understanding of the virus has changed and vaccines have become widely available. Ninety-four percent of Linfield’s McMinnville students and 98% of its Portland students are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. No data is available yet for booster doses.

Haddeland stressed, however, that Linfield does not exist “in a vacuum.” 

“We are a part of a community. And while it is less severe for most people, there still are a lot of people dying of Omicron,” she said. “You don’t know who the person standing in line next to you is–they might have an immune system that reacts differently to it than yours did.”

The most important step in keeping the community safe is to get fully vaccinated and boosted, said Haddeland. Otherwise, an unvaccinated person could potentially become the source of a new mutation in the virus.

Since announcing the booster requirement, booster clinics on campus have helped more than 90 people. Additional on-campus clinics are planned for Tuesday, Jan. 25, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Fred Meyer Lounge and Monday, Feb. 7, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Walker Hall.

“This is a residential community. And we want it to be as safe as it can possibly be. And we feel the same way about booster shots as we felt about the initial primary series of vaccines,” Haddeland said. “If it’s the thing that science tells us helps keep our community safe, then we’re going to do it.”

January also marked a change in Linfield’s isolation protocols. Students who test positive must now strictly isolate for five days before moving into a “modified isolation” for five more days. In modified isolation, students can attend classes and sports practices with a KN95 or N95 mask and other restrictions in place. Previously, a positive COVID test resulted in 10 days of strict isolation.

Haddeland said the isolation policy changes are in accordance with CDC and Oregon Health Authority guidelines.

Linfield changed its masking guidelines to “strongly [recommend] all community members wear high-filtration efficiency masks or double mask where masks are required” on campus. On Monday, the school announced through its email newsletter that students and employees will be provided with two high-filtration efficiency masks to start off the semester.