From President Tim Sands: Increased testing and vigilance required, COVID variants presumed to be in region
February 16, 2021
To the Virginia Tech community,
We’ve been back on campus for nearly a month, and it has been so uplifting to see all our faculty, students, and staff make the Virginia Tech experience possible under such difficult circumstances. I want to thank everyone who is doing their part to help us see this semester through in a healthy, positive, and enriching way.
As expected, the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to be a challenge for us all. So far this semester, our positivity rate at Virginia Tech has been lower than it was during the early weeks of the fall semester. By this point in the fall, positivity was declining. It is now increasing. A complicating factor is the evolution of the virus into new variants, such as the B.1.1.7, or U.K., variant, which we should assume is present in our community. Recent studies indicate the U.K. variant is more infectious and causes people to become even sicker than before. We are seeing evidence among our student population that the prevalence of moderate symptoms is increasing.
Finally, to be candid, I’ve also been disheartened to hear about members of our community who haven’t adhered to public health guidance with the vigilance that’s so very much needed. The presumptions that “I can’t be reinfected if I’ve already had COVID-19” or “I’m young and healthy so my symptoms will be mild” were never universally true, and, if anything, they are even more in doubt now. Add these concerns to the fact that the long-term effects of even a mild infection have not been established, and we have no reason for complacency.
Given the data we’re currently seeing and the uncertainty over the spread of more potent variants, it is important to take the following actions now to bring the virus under better control and prevent the need to impose more stringent measures:
- Based on our tracking of recent COVID-19 cases, indoor gatherings of individuals who are unmasked and not all in the same pod pose a significant risk of spreading infection. I cannot overstate the importance of avoiding these situations. As a reminder, along with the Town of Blacksburg, we will continue to follow Governor Northam’s midnight curfew and limit gatherings to no more than 10 people. Of course, any gathering with those that are not in your POD or family are not advised. As with all violations, these can be reported to VT student conduct.
- Beginning immediately, we will double our prevalence testing, increasing the frequency and number of tests for students. This will allow us to be more aggressive in assessing the health of our community and will help identify active infections within specific populations. I know that testing can be an inconvenience, but it makes such a big difference, and I appreciate your cooperation.
- I’m asking all members of the Virginia Tech community to recommit themselves to taking all necessary precautions to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. It is especially important to follow the new CDC guidelines for wearing multilayer and better-fitting masks and to avoid all unnecessary trips to public indoor venues, as well as unmasked indoor gatherings with anyone who is not in your pod.
The Corps of Cadets has committed to leading the way with stringent protocols to avoid large gatherings and high-risk scenarios. The corps will also serve as the first cohort of students to receive increased mandatory testing. I appreciate the corps’ commitment to bringing COVID-19 under control.
I know these measures come at a time when we all are weary of being told to stay vigilant. But we cannot let our guard down. If we all commit, and we continue to follow guidelines with a renewed sense of purpose and vigilance, our behaviors — paired with the daily celebration for every vaccine shot administered — will bring a swifter end to this pandemic.
Be committed. Be well.
Those in the Virginia Tech community who need assistance or counseling support may contact:
- Better Together
- Cook Counseling Center at 540-231-6557.
- Dean of Students Office at 540-231-3787. Referral to a campus cleric may be made through this office.
- Employee Assistance Program
- Anthem at 855-223-9277
- Aetna at 888-238-6232
- Kaiser Permanente at 866-517-7042
- Optima Health Vantage HMO at 866-846-2682
- Hokie Wellness at 540-231-2233 (students) or 540-231-8878 (employees)
- Office of Housing and Residence Life at 540-231-6205
- Women’s Center at Virginia Tech at 540-231-7806