President Tim Sands updates community on testing and reopening
August 18, 2020
To the Virginia Tech community,
As we continue to carefully populate our campus, we’re off to a very good start. But a successful on-campus fall semester depends on our continued vigilance and compliance with our reopening plan.
As residential colleges and universities around the country begin to open, we are watching the situation closely. Each institution’s local conditions and resources are different, and their fall opening plans reflected those differences. For some institutions that opted for an earlier start to the semester, populating their campuses is proving to be a sound decision. For others, it seems to be a mistake. Their experiences are helping us learn more about the assumptions we made and the possible outcomes.
Allowing instructors and programs to choose a method of delivery early on was a good decision from health and pedagogical perspectives. At Virginia Tech, the collective wisdom of our instructors resulted in less than 10 percent of course sections offered entirely in person and more than 60 percent offered entirely online. Offering some of the curriculum in person, especially those courses that cannot be replicated at the highest quality online, is a good outcome for students. It also necessitated a commitment to the residential experience for most of our students, and the population of on-campus residence halls, albeit at a level below the usual capacity.
As part of our reopening plan, we required students living on campus to be tested upon arrival. We also asked all students who were not already living in our community to self-quarantine for 14 days before arriving in Blacksburg. Our screening of arriving on-campus students has gone well, and I would like to share what we currently know.
We are receiving results from mid-nasal swabs analyzed by rt-PCR in our Molecular Diagnostics Lab in Roanoke within 24 hours of sampling. Of the 3,663 individuals tested between Aug. 9 and Aug. 16, we have one true positive and four positives from students who had previously confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections.
Our COVID-19 dashboard will be released this week, and will be updated on a weekly basis. Should events require more frequent communication with our faculty, students, parents, staff, and community members, we will not hesitate to convey critical and actionable information in a timely manner. Although it is too early to draw firm conclusions, the evidence suggests that aggressive and rapid testing, effective contact tracing, and sufficient capacity for quarantine and isolation are effective and essential. We have strategies in place that address these needs.
The experience of other institutions also supports something I highlighted in my letter on Aug. 10. Our greatest risks are off-campus social gatherings without face coverings, physical distancing, or adequate ventilation. I am grateful to everyone in Blacksburg and our communities across the commonwealth for taking the pandemic so seriously.
For those who may wish to take a break – perhaps by hosting or attending a party with individuals not in your “pod” – please don’t. I know how difficult it is to maintain the necessary discipline in what is normally the most social of settings, a residential university campus and town, but this pandemic will end, and there will be a day in the not-too-distant future when a degree of normalcy will return. For now, we are in partnership with the Town of Blacksburg to ensure that those who host or attend gatherings that create conditions that could lead to an outbreak are held accountable through the newly passed ordinance 1942 and through the Student Conduct process, if applicable.
With care for ourselves and each other, we can make the most of this semester. Thank you for doing your part.
Remain vigilant. Be Committed. Be Well.