After an unusual start on campus, VWU has successfully made it through its first month of the semester. This accomplishment is being celebrated by students and staff. As of Oct. 6, there have been a cumulative total of 20 positive cases of COVID-19 and 13 total cleared cases.
The weeks between Aug. 19th and Sept. 15th resulted in a minimal amount of cases, but for the week of Sept. 16 to Sept. 22, there were eight cases and for the week of Sept. 23 to Sept. 29, there were 10 cases.
The additional cases resulted in several changes to policies and regulations on campus. In an email sent on Sept. 23, The Emergency Response Team announced the additional cases that “were a result of irresponsible behavior by some members of our campus community. This included the hosting of off-campus gatherings of a social nature, which put many members of the campus community at risk and required the University to respond with disciplinary action and stricter guidelines on social distancing and congregating.”
The new restrictions include removing the ability for athletic practices for the immediate future, increased regulations in residence halls to restrict visitors and the closing of all academic buildings after the last class of each day. The reasoning behind closing the academic buildings were because it would limit students congregating, but this means that student organizations are no longer able to meet in-person. As of Oct. 5, athletic teams were able to resume practices.
According to Associate Vice President for Campus Life and Operational Management Jason Seward, “the biggest change that we made is that we no longer allow any student to enter another room, house or apartment that is not their own,” Seward said. The consequences of someone entering a space that is not their own varies on the situation. “It could result in disciplinary action, temporary loss of housing, long term loss of housing or separation from the university. It depends on [the] severity of the issue.”
Seward attributes the uptick in cases to an off-campus event. “We saw an uptick due to an off campus situation that caused the university to respond. We are weathering the situation well with 13 cases being cleared and 7 active cases [as of Oct. 2],” Seward said. “This is a challenging year for our community. This is not the way that I, our faculty, staff or students pictured for a college campus environment, but it is one that we have navigated as a community and that is something that we have done well.”
Sophomore Stephanie Hoke is one of the students who tested positive for COVID-19 since being on campus. Hoke has not attended any off campus events since returning to campus. She was tested on Sept. 18 and was told that she tested positive the next day. This began when one of her roommates was not feeling well, noting increased fatigue, headaches and extended periods of sleep. Soon, Hoke began experiencing some of the symptoms as well. “We both reported them through LiveSafe that Friday and then we both called the health center and the nurse was like ‘You may wait to get tested until she gets her results back,’” Hoke said. When she found out that her roommate tested positive, then Hoke and the rest of her roommates were tested.
They were tested at Velocity Urgent Care, which is the same place Hoke was tested before the start of the fall semester. “I just went online and scheduled an appointment and they told us that we could all go together. We did our times back-to-back and the people there were really nice,” Hoke said. “The school made sure we had transportation and that we knew how to go get tested.”
For Hoke, the symptoms she experienced were fatigue, headaches and eventually, a cough and loss of taste and smell. “I would say I had symptoms for seven days,” Hoke stated. Four out of the five roommates tested positive. The one roommate who did not test positive was moved to the hotel where they had to spend 14 days in quarantine.
Hoke approved of the communication from the university regarding their case. “They called the night my first roommate tested positive. They called me and had me put the phone on speaker and they explained how quarantine and the meals were going to work,” Hoke said. According to Hoke, meals were delivered in a large brown bag at 5:30pm each day that contained dinner, and breakfast and lunch for the next day. It also included snacks, gatorade and water. Other than dietary restrictions, the university does not take any input, but one of her roommates is a vegetarian and they did accommodate that.
According to Hoke, each of her professors responded to the situation well. “Every professor got back to me, so all of mine sent me the zoom links,” Hoke said. “It is different. It was hard to stay focused especially when you have your distractions like your phone.” During the days of isolation, she kept herself busy by doing crafts some of her teammates dropped off, watching television and movies, homework and sleeping.
She does wish that the university would be more public about the status of COVID-19 on campus. Additionally, Hoke called the overall experience unforgettable. “It was definitely a weird and interesting experience, one that I won’t forget, especially since we were one of the first bigger case numbers all in one place, I think they handled it pretty well. They didn’t really check on us that much besides dropping off our meals.”
In regards to student activities on campus, an email sent by Director of Student Activities Sarah Guzzo to student leaders stated, “student organizations with meetings in classroom spaces must be moved to a virtual platform until further notice … events may still be requested in virtual, hybrid or socially distant format … You will notice on the event request form that it will now be necessary to have a faculty/staff advisor or a faculty/staff designee present for socially distant/hybrid events with over 10 students in attendance. This applies to indoor and outdoor events.”
According to Guzzo, the decision of implementing the new regulations on student organizations was based on the communication that went out from the university for more restrictions within the residence halls and the athletic events. “It kind of falls in line with everything else going on with the university. With the most recent number that had gone out of COVID-19 cases either confirmed or not, the decision was made to match what was going on with other departments and limit the in-person interactions specifically with things that could easily be changed virtually,” Guzzo said.
The response to the new rules from student organizations has been one of acceptance. “It is kind of heartbreaking to have another thing that is moving to virtually, but mostly everyone is understandable … My office is trying to make it as easy as possible and I know that there is a lot of planning, but there is also a lot at stake as well. For those that have hosted in-person events and for those that have hopped through all of those obstacles, the events have gone well,” Guzzo said.
Guzzo does not have a timeframe of when student organizations will be able to meet in person regularly. “When there are changes with university expectations and guidelines through those COVID emails that go out, we will be making adjustments as well,” Guzzo stated.
If a student would like to create an event, there is an event request form available on the student activities webpage and it is also linked on Guzzo’s instagram, found at @dir_of_stu_act.
By Connor Merk