MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As late January approaches, West Virginia University students are heading back to campus to begin the spring semester.
Their safety and that of all who work at the university and live in the surrounding community is a priority to the university. That showed during WVU’s Return to Campus Conversation on Thursday. The virtual conversation was spearheaded by the dean of students, provost, vice president of strategic initiatives and the dean of the school of public health.
University officials laid out plans for the spring semester, covering everything from testing to vaccination to seating charts in classrooms. Here’s what’s known.
School starts on Jan. 19 and prior to that, all students must have received a negative COVID-19 test if they want to be in a classroom. As far as testing goes, WVU will have testing available all semester. The gold standard PCR and the rapid antigen tests will be available, according to Dr. Jeffrey Coben, dean of the school of public health.
In fact, every week, the university will randomly pick 10 percent of the student body will be tested to gauge the infection rate on campus.
If a student lives on campus and receives a positive test, they will be required to quarantine in Arnold Hall or Gaskins House, similar to in the fall.
As far as vaccines are concerned, at this time, the university is not requiring students and employees to receive a vaccine. However, it is actively working to get more doses, according to Rob Alsop, vice president for strategic initiatives.
“Fortunately, WVU is part of phase 1-D for the distribution of those vaccines,” Alsop said. “And so we started receiving as part of higher education in West Virginia, allotted vaccines. However, for all of higher education, we get around a thousand vaccines a week. That’s public and private schools across the state.”
Alsop said the university has received, on average, 110-120 doses each week since distribution started in December. Things might be getting better on that front seeing as the university received roughly 180 doses this week, according to Alsop.
Right now though, the vaccines are only available for those who are elderly and it will be some time before inoculating the greater university begins.
“I would ask you to have patience and continue to follow the COVID-19 safety measures to help protect yourself and others who may wait longer for vaccine availability,” Alsop said. “We will continue to distribute vaccines based on state regulations developed by the joint interagency task force.”
Patience is the name of the game at WVU this spring and that is why Alsop and Coben stressed the need for students to still practice social distancing, proper hygiene and mask-wearing.
Masks and social distancing will be required on campus.
Maryanne Reed, WVU’s provost, said about 67 percent percent of students returning this fall will learn only online, meaning the remaining 33 percent will either be in-person or hybrid learning.
In classrooms, Reed said, there will be seating charts and roll calls to mitigate the virus spread. Instructors will be aware of students who have not received a negative test and will be allowed to ask them to leave.
WVU is hoping all these steps will be enough to help it holdover until vaccines are available for most of the student body.
Corey Farris, dean of students, said he was excited for students to return to campus after leaving slightly earlier than intended in the fall.
“I mean our business our work every day is to see students succeed, to do well in the classroom and have a campus that’s alive with our students,” Farris said. “And so, for those of us who have been doing this for a long time, it’s been an empty campus 32 since November, quite frankly, when students went home right before Thanksgiving break. 37 So I’m excited to get everybody back and I can’t wait for us to get COVID under control so that we can do a whole lot more in-person things. We’re ready for 48 you to come back and it will be a tough start but we’re ready to have fun with you and support you in every way we can.”
Reed, the provost, agreed with Farris’s sentiment about how significant it is for students to be returning this spring.
“We’re just excited to have our students back and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”