Campus inches closer to pre-COVID-19 normalcy

Virginia Wesleyan is turning over a new leaf this year with updated COVID-19 policies. After a challenging 2020-2021 academic year, students, faculty and staff are looking forward to a year that mimics the normalcy of life pre-pandemic. Despite the challenges last year, the policies were considered a success, as the campus community was able to effectively contain COVID-19 cases. With only 87 total cases throughout the entire 2020-2021 school year at the height of the pandemic, the VWU community proved its commitment to reducing virus transmission.

Associate Vice President for Campus Life and Operational Management Jason Seward, said that both the policies and commitment from the community made the last year a tremendous success. 

“Out of all the private institutions in the state, we were the third-fewest in COVID-19 cases last year,” Seward said. “Students were the key to our success. They answered the call in a big way.”

The new policies offer relaxed restrictions for students who were required to get vaccinated before returning to campus. These relaxed restrictions will improve the quality of the experience for students. There were a handful of exceptions to the vaccine rule such as those with medical or religious reasons that were considered on a case-by-case basis. Those individuals must get tested every other week. 

Currently, the university is standing by its vaccine policy, which is strict to maintain low transmission of the virus on campus. The CDC is continuing to release updates about booster shot recommendations. Going forward, the school has yet to make an announcement regarding vaccine booster shots. 

“The biggest goal for the school year is to reach the safest normal possible,” Seward said. “The first step in achieving that goal was our announcement that our entire community would be vaccinated upon returning to school. The response we got showed our community’s commitment to safety, health and wellbeing.”

Also, students are allowed to have guests on campus and in their residence halls so long as masks are worn. This is a complete change in policy from last year’s strict no-tolerance policy for guests within residence halls. The goal of these changes is to allow campus life to return to normal while still staying safe, which is the main priority of the university at this time.

All classes have returned to in-person learning, a change from last year’s format. Last year, students dealt with online classes that were conducted through Zoom. Some classes followed a hybrid format that spent half the time online and half the time in person, with strict mask and social distancing rules. 

As far as campus facilities are concerned, all facilities will be operating as normal. The gym, pool and recreational equipment will be available to students and faculty on a normal schedule. 

Additionally, the campus-wide masking policy has been updated, allowing students and faculty to have their masks off outside when they are socially distanced. Masks are still required in all indoor areas unless students are within their residence space without guests.

Virginia Wesleyan’s Director of Student Health April Christman, expressed that the current policies are subject to change if needed to maintain a safe campus community.

“We are ready to pivot if we need to, on the side of safety,” said Christman. “We talk weekly with the Virginia Beach Department of Health, our partners at Sentara Health Group and the Council of Higher Education in the state to monitor trends in regard to COVID-19.”

So far, during the 2021 fall semester, there have been a total of 2 confirmed COVID-19 cases on campus. As of Sept. 7, 2021, there are no new or current cases on campus.

Seward believes that there have already been indications that our current policies are more effective than those of last year. 

“Requiring the vaccines and face coverings has really been the key to success,” Seward said. 

As far as athletic events go, both indoor and outdoor sports are allowed to have in-person spectators. The previous year, indoor sports were only allowed a specific number of spectators, and none of them could be members of the campus community. That meant that no students could attend indoor sports games.

Outdoor sports were permitted spectators from the campus community and outside the community. Despite the more relaxed spectator regulations, outdoor sports were still limited to a select number of spectators during the 2020-2021 school year. 

Jessica Garvie, a junior on the volleyball team, expressed that the relaxed spectator policies have changed the environment in Townebank Arena during games. 

“Having a crowd of students and parents really helps our team be successful during games,” said Garvie. “The environment is so different when we have people supporting us. I know the whole team is grateful for the change in policy. I also think that other students probably feel the same way, they can finally come and support us live.”

Going forward, students can expect to maintain a somewhat normal life during the 2021-2022 school year, yet in the safest way possible. That means that masks are here to stay for the time being.

“Really everything is back on the table,” said Seward. “We are back in person 100 percent now. We are back to our traditions, visiting friends and spectating sports.”

By Kathryn Yeager