Showing Up

Meet a few of the hundreds of essential workers who keep Western’s campus and community running during a pandemic
Mary Gallagher
Byrom Gouette
Byron Gouette, ’12, B.A., creative writing, says his family was a little worried when he volunteered for COVID transport duty, particularly his mom.
Cathy Manas
Cathy Manas, a 31-year-old registered nurse, started working in October at the Student Health Center after working as a pre-op and recovery nurse in Chicago. Now, Manas is working mostly in testing, while getting to know Bellingham’s hiking trails.
Leki Paongo
Leki Paongo, 19, from Salt Lake City, is a greeter for the Student Health Center, and hopes to major in international business. He was a mentor fall quarter for Compass to Campus, helping middle school kids with homework.
LaQuae Aughtman
What if students forget their phone charger when they move to the Ridge for quarantine or isolation? One student wanted their cosplay makeup kit; a reasonable request, says Assistant RD LaQuae Aughtman, for a creative person to pass the time.

COVID Transport Team

Students who live on campus and test positive for COVID-19, or who have been exposed to COVID-19, spend their quarantine and isolation periods in the residence halls on the Ridge.

But first, they meet the COVID Transport Team, a volunteer team of custodial staff members who gear up in PPE and move the student and their belongings up onto the hill.

The team members meet the students at their door, give them an N-95 mask, and escort them down to the van while carrying their belongings. “The first time I had to do this, I kind of felt like the grim reaper,” says Rylan Hislop, 24, who has carried a few televisions and computer monitors while wearing head-to-toe PPE. “A lot of people were staring. Then it got normalized enough, now people just see us and scoot by.”

Jeff Osthimer says he and other members of the COVID Transport Team know it’s stressful for students to be escorted out of their homes by men in white Tyvek suits and face shields. “We take it seriously, but we keep it light,” Osthimer says. “We try to make them feel comfortable.”

The COVID Transport Team, which also includes Assistant Director Wayne Galloway and Warehouse Operator Maafala Petaia, aren’t the only members of Western’s custodial crew taking on extra duties during the pandemic. Custodians throughout campus have been working to make sure high-touch surfaces are disinfected more often and rooms that have been occupied by people get a thorough cleaning—all while keeping socially distant to protect themselves.

During fall quarter, the transport team moved about 30 students to the Ridge. The highlight, they say, is bringing them back to their regular residence halls.

Student Health Center

In the days before Thanksgiving, Student Health Center nurses at Western’s COVID Testing Center in Fraser Hall saw over 3,000 students for COVID tests before the holiday break. Western required all students with an on-campus presence to get tested—and opened testing to off-campus student residents—to prevent students from unwittingly taking infections home to their families for the holidays.

By the end of fall quarter, the Student Health Center performed more than 13,700 tests, with only 38 positive results. The Health Center also stepped up its telehealth services and set up the Annex, a special clinic for students with COVID-like symptoms.

Residence Life

During fall quarter about 1,000 students lived on campus, where Residence Life staff had to get creative on social programming that built community on campus while maintaining safety protocols.

About 40 students, including a few from off-campus, spent about two weeks in quarantine or isolation in residence halls on the Ridge, where Residence Life staff worked to make sure students were welcomed, safe and connected to the rest of campus while they reduced the risk of outbreaks in the community.

Mary Gallagher is editor of Window magazine.

Photos by Rhys Logan, '11

Jeff Osthimer
Jeff Osthimer lives with his mother, who is at high risk. Becoming infected and endangering her is “my biggest fear,” he says. But he feels well-protected when he’s moving students.
Ryan Hislop
When the pandemic restrictions ease, Rylan Hislop, ’19, B.A., history, plans to return to playing guitar with his rock band, Akrasia.
Sindy De La Garza
Licensed Practical Nurse Sindy De La Garza has three children, and loves to watch them play sports. Her oldest daughter, 17, wants to return to the state wrestling championships for Lynden High School -- if she can get back on the mat this year.
Dong Vo
Dong Vo is a resident director for communities on the Ridge, which is set aside for students in quarantine or isolation. Vo and other Residence Life staff make sure residents can maintain their academic and social lives – and mental health.
Kaitlin Losansky
“Everyone I’ve talked to is craving connection,” says RA Kaitlin Losansky. “They want this year to feel as normal as possible.” Losansky, 20, a double-major in theatre and business management, is organizing a socially distant scavenger hunt.