On Aug. 17, Virginia Tech launched its COVID-19 online dashboard that has provided, since its creation, weekly reports of COVID test results administered by Schiffert Health Center to convey a snapshot of the overall health of the campus community.

The university has transitioned from benchmarking the health of residential students moving onto campus to diagnostic testing, screening, and surveillance testing. To provide more current and actionable information to members of our community, updates to the dashboard will be made more frequently in the future.

The next update to the COVID-19 online dashboard will be Monday, Aug. 31. This update will reflect the ongoing testing of students and employees who were symptomatic or had an elevated risk of exposure.

“Now that the fall semester is underway, we will see an increase in the number of positive cases,” said Noelle Bissell, health director of the New River Health District, “Virginia Tech, in partnership with local health and community officials, has been preparing for months for this likelihood and how to manage it effectively.”

Virginia Tech’s testing plan prioritizes those who are symptomatic, those who have been identified through contact tracing, and those who work or take part in activities that bring them in contact with larger numbers of people. Students may contact Schiffert Health Center to be screened for a COVID-19 test if public health protocols indicate that it is appropriate.

Foundational to the university’s response to the pandemic is strict adherence to existing public health guidelines.

“Wear a mask or face covering at all times, indoors and outdoors; avoid large gatherings and remain physically distant from those around you; and wash your hands frequently,” said Kevin Foust, associate vice president for safety and security at Virginia Tech. “We all know it, but we all must do it because the safety and well-being of our community depends on it.”

“In addition to following public health guidelines, it is imperative that students who have symptoms, or believe that they may have contracted COVID-19, inform university health professionals,” said Frank Shushok, vice president for student affairs. “This is what allows for good health counseling and testing, and contact tracing through the Virginia Department of Health to prevent the spread of the virus. It would be counterproductive for the university to punish students by retroactively investigating how they contracted COVID-19. We will, however, use our conduct process to address dangerous behavior that creates conditions that spreads the virus. As we’ve said from the beginning, our overarching goal is public health, including the health of our students.”

The Virginia Tech dashboard is just one tool used by the university to help manage the pandemic in our area and to provide information to the community. University officials also monitor the availability of on-campus quarantine and isolation space, Virginia Department of Health metrics including positivity rates, the total number of cases, and the number of tests performed. Available hospital capacity (number of beds, ICU space, and number of ventilators) is also monitored, while the Harvard Global Health Institute’s model is used to monitor national and international information.

Decisions regarding continuing in-person instruction and campus activities are based on assessment of public health data in consultation with regional health district officials and will be dependent in large part on whether Virginia Tech students, faculty, and staff are complying with campus health and safety protocols.