To the Virginia Tech community,

Spring’s warmer weather is upon us, vaccinations are becoming widely available, and COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region are down markedly. There are many reasons to be optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and that we will be able to resume a more normal way of life in the summer. Yet, globally, nationally, and certainly in Virginia, more transmissible variants and pandemic fatigue could jeopardize or delay a return to normal. This general description of the state of the pandemic applies to the Blackburg campus, where all metrics indicate that we are past the early-semester peak and trending in a good direction. I’d like to take this opportunity, at the midpoint of the semester, to update you on the status of the pandemic on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus.

As of this week, the seven-day average of daily positive cases has dropped nearly 60 percent from the peak on the last day of February. This is very good news, but the current level remains too high to relax our public health behaviors. Similarly, the seven-day average of positivity (the percentage of all tests that are positive) dropped below 5% during the first week of March and is now about 3%, still nearly three times the level before Thanksgiving break. The number of students in on-campus quarantine and isolation has dropped from a peak of 200 to fewer than 90, a great improvement, but still higher than mid-November levels.

It is clear that your adherence to public health guidelines combined with a doubling of prevalence testing and improved quarantine, isolation, and case management is working. Thank you for your vigilance and patience!

I also want to express my deep appreciation to our employees with high-contact job responsibilities who have taken advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated, and to employees who have continued working on-site throughout the pandemic, providing core services to our students. Thank you for your unwavering commitment to our mission.

I wish it were time to celebrate a victory over COVID-19 on campus. We are all exhausted and anxious to have the opportunity to spend time with friends and family, and to resume the shared community experiences that make spring in Blacksburg special. It is important for us all to remember there is still significant risk for the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Case numbers haven’t come down far enough in Virginia for public health authorities to significantly lift restrictions, especially with variants that are more contagious and potentially can lead to more serious disease. Also, while a large portion of our population is, fortunately, young and healthy, they are not yet eligible for the limited vaccine supply.

Considering these dynamics, which are shared by all residential university communities, I would like to highlight some specific actions we can take to accelerate our progress against COVID-19:

  1. Student pods: These small groups with more relaxed guidelines and shared activities are a great way to make the best of the constraints. Pods provide opportunities to gather without face coverings or distancing during on-campus activities and in the residence halls. We have 1,479 students registered to 346 pods this semester, and it is apparent that the student experience in registered pods is markedly improved without increasing the risk of transmission.
  2. Wearing a better-fitting mask, or two. This is the single most important tool we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Linsey Marr recently shared her tips on improving your masking in this video.
  3. Register for the vaccine. While the supply is still limited, the New River Valley Health Department has distributed more than 60,000 vaccine doses and is scaling up as the supply increases. Even if you are not currently eligible, registering now will place you in line for a vaccination opportunity when it becomes available. Remember, a shot in any arm is protection for our community.

We will have an opportunity to further discuss these and other issues, including preliminary plans for the fall, at a student-focused Town Hall on March 18 at 1 p.m.

I know you’ve already sacrificed a great deal, but continued vigilance has never been more important. As you know, we recently made the decision to hold a virtual spring commencement. Given current restrictions on gathering sizes in Virginia, and the state of COVID-19 in our community, this is the only option that we can commit to at this time. In addition to the virtual commencement, which will be accessible to all, we are exploring options for meaningful in-person celebrations and experiences should the local state of the pandemic improve markedly over the next few weeks. The trajectory we follow is largely in our hands. Together, we can deliver a moment our graduates will remember and treasure.

Finally, it is that time of the year, when Hokie winter sports reach a crescendo. Despite the limited opportunities to cheer on our student-athletes in person, this season is shaping up to be one of the best in our history.

Congratulations to ACC Coach of the Year Mike Young, and to the men’s and women’s basketball teams for outstanding seasons. We will be yelling and screaming from our pods as the men take on the University of Florida in the NCAA tournament this Friday, and the women play Marquette on Sunday, the first time in our history that both teams have made their NCAA tournaments! And the NCAA championships are about to begin for wrestling and swimming & diving. LET’S GO…HOKIES!

Be committed. Be well.

Tim Sands,
President

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