The coronavirus pandemic has brought many changes that affect our daily lives in a multitude of ways in the past six months. On March 18, the Office of Academic Affairs sent an email declaring that students were told to remain at home after spring break and continue their courses online. After being sent home, President Miller announced the creation of a task force to be led by Dr. Maynard Schaus, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dr. Keith Moore, Vice President for Campus Life and Operational Management to tread this territory of unprecedented challenges to higher education.
The fall semester schedule was announced via email on June 19, that included calendar changes in relation to the first day of classes, elimination of fall break, and that the semester will continue remotely after Thanksgiving break. Throughout the summer, announcements were made regarding move-in, mandatory COVID test, the dining hall, daily health screenings with the LiveSafe app and other student expectations. During this process, the university has received expert advice from the Virginia Beach Department of Health. They assisted in providing feedback on VWU’s plan that was submitted to the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia that allowed the re-opening of campus.
There are many rules that can be found in the “Returning to Campus Fall 2020 COVID-19 Guide,” which is available on the university website including, “Individuals should neither host nor attend social gatherings on or off campus, individuals should maintain 6’ social distance whether indoors or outdoors, all individuals on campus are required to wear face coverings indoors and outdoors, particularly if 6’ of social distancing cannot be maintained, all students must complete thedaily health screening process through the LiveSafe application, no guests are permitted on campus, with the exception of immediate family members who will be positively identified by Campus Security upon entrance to the University.”
Jason Seward, associate vice president for Campus Life and Operational Management clarified the rules that townhouse and apartment residents must adhere to. “Per the plan released online, we made the decision that visiting other apartments or townhouses is not allowed … You are allowed one guest from your own hall or floor in the dorms. Double rooms can have a max of four people from the same hall. For apartments, no one else is allowed in besides the roommates. For example, 302 only hangs out with 302,” Seward said. Students are allowed to meet outside while wearing masks and social distancing.
Seward also mentioned that students need to make responsible decisions when going off campus. “If something is brought to university attention that threatens our safety, we have the responsibility to respond,” Seward said. “We have received tips from a number of parents, peers and members of the community, for which we have the responsibility to respond.”
Many students have been asking themselves, their peers and professors if they think we could be 100% virtual this semester. Seward believes that is unlikely, but there are many factors that come into play, such as the threat to campus and surrounding area and he is unsure if everyone would be sent home in the event that COVID-19 became prevalent on campus. Dr. Schaus added, “We would assess the situation at that point to see what is best for our campus community.”
Governor Northam announced on Sept. 10 that the Hampton Roads region will join the rest of Virginia in phase 3 of his plan for reopening the state. According to his announcement, “New cases have dropped by more than half, hospitalizations have declined, and percent positivity has fallen below the statewide average. But we cannot let our guard down—we all must continue practicing social distancing, wearing facial coverings, and following all public health guidelines.” Additionally, this change in policy means that private and social gatherings can include up to 250 people.
President Scott D. Miller responded to this declaration in an email on Sept. 11. “This news comes as the University completes its third week of face-to-face instruction. He also stated that as of Sept. 11, VWU has investigated 67 reports of symptomatic individuals or those who may have been exposed since Aug. 20. According to Miller, “14 individuals have quarantined and seven remain in quarantine. All of these individuals are doing so from home off campus. As a precautionary measure, individuals that may have been exposed are required to quarantine, but this does not mean that they have or could have the virus.” He concluded his statement by saying that the changes in the Governor’s orders will have minimal impact on current policies although there will be limited seating in Boyd Dining Center starting on Monday, Sept. 14.
Additionally, on Sept. 15, an email was sent to students from the Emergency Response Team stating “A second member of our community has tested positive for COVID-19. In consultation with the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health, the individual has been placed in isolation.” They added that based on contact tracing, individuals have been informed who might be impacted and for all students to complete the daily health screen on the LiveSafe app.
Other universities, large and small have grappled with this situation. According to its website, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA with over 20,000 students has “invested in and opened a CLIA-certified COVID-19 clinical diagnostics lab. The University implemented a multi-layered approach to COVID-19 testing, which consists of in-house testing for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. The plan includes medical screenings and same-day testing of symptomatic students living on campus as well as weekly random sampling testing (known as “surveillance testing”) throughout the semester to detect the disease prevalence rate and adjust mitigation efforts.” Results are reported weekly in Old Dominion University’s COVID-19 Dashboard, which as of Sept. 14, has completed 1,683 tests and 51 positive cases.
Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA with around 5,000 students, like VWU requests that their students fill out a daily self-screening. As of Sept. 14, they have reported six positive cases.
As of Tuesday, Sept. 15, VWU has reported two positive COVID-19 cases.