The administration announced on Nov. 18 one case of COVID-19, which brings the cumulative case number to 24 so far this semester. The Emergency Response Team also reminded students in an email that after Nov. 20, the university will be switching to remote instruction. They also stated their appreciation for the campus community’s commitment to having a safe and responsible semester.
In an interview with the Marlin Chronicle, President Miller stated how he is especially proud of VWU. “According to the last report that we received, we had the second lowest number of positive cases, among private institutions of those reporting, we were the second lowest in Virginia and in the report that we received only Eastern Mennonite was better than us,” Miller said. “Now, we’re proud of it, but it has meant that you’ve had a rather restrictive, living and learning environment for the whole semester.”
He has also been pleased with the cooperation and relationships between the Commonwealth of Virginia and higher educational institutions in Virginia regarding COVID-19. “We as a group, meaning the private institutions had these discussions on how we were going to address things, but they [public health officials] said to us, that ‘we would strongly recommend to you that somewhere around the 20th of November, you stopped in-person instruction, because we see that there’s going to be a surge in cases somewhere around that time period and we think that by doing the masks, the social distancing, the limiting the number of people in classes, all the safeguards, that if you go to that remote format, and stay out of in-person from November 20, until whenever your institution starts second semester, that you’ll play a major role in in reducing the spread in the state.’ And all the information that we’ve received so far, has worked the way they forecasted and so science does work,” Miller said.
Miller also mentioned that he has been a president in four different states and has been impressed by the advisories and the role that the Commonwealth has played in advising the university and bringing together institutions in Virginia.
“It’s wonderful to see not just the 31 private colleges, but 91 institutions overall, that recruit for students and recruit for resources. When it comes to COVID-19, the 91 institutions have all been friends and they are there to help each other, whether it’s with testing, whether it’s establishing policies, whether it’s talking through different scenarios, it has been wonderful to see 91 higher educational institutions all working together for the good of our students,” Miller said.
Associate Vice President For Campus Life and Operational Management Jason Seward was also encouraged by the numbers at VWU, but encourages the community to remain vigilant in all safety practices in place. “The University will continue to follow recommendations and best practices in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 during the spring semester,” Seward said.
Freshman Julia Piotrowski believes that VWU has handled COVID-19 to the best of their ability. “Unlike most of my friends from back home, I attended in-person classes, practiced with my team and lived in a dorm. Although it may not be the typical college experience, I was reassured that it was a safe one,” Piotrowski said.
She is also content with the changes that have been made to the fall and spring semester, such as removing the fall and spring breaks and having virtual instruction after Thanksgiving. “I could understand how some of the upperclassmen would be upset with these changes, but this is the only thing I have experienced,” Piotrowski said. “It would have been nice to come back after Thanksgiving since we will be going home for a more extended amount of time, and I finally felt as if I was adjusting to college.”
Piotrowski does have several suggestions regarding university policies, specifically about the closure of academic buildings at earlier times. “As a student-athlete, I need a quiet place to study and get my work done after a long day. I’ve noticed that the library and Greer tend to close early, and I end up getting interrupted in the middle of my work,” Piotrowski said. “When I’m getting out of practice late, I don’t want to have to worry about rushing to one of these buildings to get my work done in a suitable environment before it closes.”
Other universities in the Hampton Roads region have experienced for the most part, a much higher number of COVID-19 cases compared to VWU. For example, as of Nov. 13, Christopher Newport University, which has 5,000 students, has had a total of 142 confirmed cases. Norfolk State University, which also has 5,000 students, has had a total of 24 confirmed cases. Old Dominion University, which has 24,000 students, has had a total of 173 confirmed cases. William & Mary, which has 8,000 students, has had 77 confirmed cases.
Ralph Northam, governor of Virginia, announced on Nov. 13 new statewide measures to contain COVID-19. These measures include restrictions on gatherings, expansion of mask mandates, strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses and on-site alcohol curfews. As a result of this order, all public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings. Additionally, all Virginians aged five and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces, which used to be the policy for those aged ten and over.
The Governor also stated in the order, “Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives,” Northam stated.
According to the Virginia Department of Health as of Nov. 17, Virginia has had over 200,000 total confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, over 13,000 confirmed and probable hospitalizations and 3,835 confirmed and probable deaths. Regarding localities near VWU, Virginia Beach has had 9,449 cases of COVID-19 and Norfolk has had 6,037 cases as of Nov. 17.
By Connor Merk