UPDATE (SEPT 27, 2020 6:00 p.m.):
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University announced that it plans to resume in-person undergraduate classes on the Morgantown campus on Monday, September 28.
“The data drove our decision, and I am so delighted all indications are we can safely return to in-person instruction,” President Gordon Gee said.
The university explained that the same percentage of courses will be held in-person as when WVU started the fall 2020 semester. Students with in-person instruction should resume schedules on Monday, September 28.
“We are pleased that the measures we’ve taken will allow us to bring students back to the classrooms,” Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed said. “Now we can move forward with our original plan for delivering high-quality instruction, regardless of modality, while also giving our students an on-campus experience.”
The pause of in-person instruction and shift to online learning for undergraduate students was announced on September 7. Officials explained that the pause was due to an increase in positive cases among students, as well as concern about a potential spike in cases following several reports of parties held during the Labor Day holiday weekend.
The University and Monongalia County health experts have closely monitored a number of factors during the two-week pause. Positive COVID-19 tests in the county are trending down, according to the release.
“The student daily positive case numbers are down, including those tests conducted outside the WVU system,” Dr. Jeffrey Coben, associate vice president of health affairs and dean of the School of Public Health, said. “Additionally, we have seen consistent declines in student quarantine and isolation cases.”
However, Coben warns that just because it has been declared safe to return to in-person classes does not mean students, faculty and staff can rest easy.
“At the end of the day, we all have to realize COVID has not gone away and that it continues to be a serious public health concern that we all need to manage,” Coben said. “With all the things that we’ve done and continue to do, the real key to our success will be our own personal and collective behaviors. That’s the secret sauce, the simple things that each and every one of us needs to do to keep our entire campus community safe.”
Coben said simple things like wearing a face mask, wearing face coverings both on campus and in the community, maintaining physical distancing, being careful to attend to personal hygiene and getting tested when testing is offered and available so that the university can monitor whom may be asymptomatic and presymptomatic and isolate those individuals are all critical to keeping in-person learning.
If all of those behaviors are applied consistently WVU can have a successful semester, Coben said. It won’t be normal and not exactly what everyone wants but it’s better than the alternative.
Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop said there are seven weeks to go until the Thanksgiving Break and the hope is to keep everything as it is now because it is inconvenient to ask students and faculty to go back and forth between being allowed to have in-person classes and not.
If another big outbreak were to occur, the university might just move online for the rest of the semester, but only time will tell, Alsop said.
According to university officials, WVU’s designated isolation space for residence hall students is now at 40% occupancy. The release explained that the local hospitalization rate is low and includes no students.
Since return-to-campus testing began on July 20, WVU has seen just five faculty and staff positive cases on the Morgantown campus – none found to be from a classroom or on-campus exposure, according to the release. The University’s data dashboard is updated weekdays at 2 p.m.
“I understand when students are hanging out with their friends off-campus it might be easy for some to let down their guard but it’s so important to remember the safety guidelines all of the time,” Dean of Students Corey Farris said. “I am so proud of the overwhelming majority of our students who understand they need to wear a mask, practice physical distancing, avoid large indoor gatherings in social settings and follow the rules so we stay here on campus. And we will continue to hold those who are not following the necessary guidelines accountable for their actions.”
According to the latest information from the Office of Student Conduct:
- Approximately 120 students have received or will receive, COVID-19-related sanctions, up to and including probation.
- 30 students have been placed on interim suspension pending hearings.
- 24 students have been suspended.
- 3 students have been placed on deferred suspension.
- 3 students’ sanctions were reduced to probation after their hearings.
- 14 students are awaiting possible hearings.
Alsop called on students and employees to continue following the safety guidelines and to take advantage of new testing opportunities.
“I want to thank the Governor, the National Guard and the Monongalia County Health Department for working with us to offer free community testing at the Student Rec Center,” Alsop said. “This testing is available every Wednesday for the foreseeable future to all WVU students, employees and residents of Monongalia County and it is not necessary to have COVID-19 symptoms to get tested.”
The University stated that it will continue to conduct testing of students who are symptomatic, as well as those who may be at a higher risk for exposure. In addition, faculty and staff who are working on campus and are concerned they may have been exposed can also receive a test upon request.
Alsop, Coben, Farris, and Reed will participate in a Return to Campus Conversation on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 10 a.m. A second session for faculty only is planned Friday, Sept. 25 at 10 a.m.
“Every decision we have made has been focused on the health and safety of our faculty, staff and students,” Gee said. “We were able to flatten our numbers and move forward with the semester. However, we are still in the midst of a serious pandemic and must adhere to the safety guidelines in place. Going forward, I want to assure our campus and the surrounding community that health and safety factors will continue to guide us in the future.