CLARKSBURG — After more than a year of school closures, virtual courses and completing classwork at home, higher education institutions in West Virginia are preparing for students to return this fall by developing comprehensive plans for a safe return to in-person instruction.
With recent decreases in COVID-19 cases across the country and the knowledge that COVID-19 vaccines are extremely safe and effective, West Virginia University now plans to fully reopen its campuses this fall.
“Lessons learned from the pandemic will influence how the university approaches some activities and events moving forward. As always, the safety of students, faculty, staff and guests will be an important guiding factor,” according to a release from university officials.
WVU is encouraging everyone to be vaccinated, and while the vaccine itself is not required of faculty, staff or students, everyone must verify their vaccine status by Aug. 1 at http://myhousing.wvu.edu.
Those not fully vaccinated and those who have not verified their vaccine status by Aug. 1 must: Comply with re-entry COVID-19 testing prior to the start of the fall semester; comply with random sample testing until fully vaccinated; quarantine for at least 10 days following close contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19; quarantine for five days following out-of-state travel; wear a mask indoors and when outdoors and around others.
As of June 20, fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks indoors or outdoors on campus, but those who are fully vaccinated and would like to continue wearing a mask for additional protection are encouraged to do so.
However, consistent with federal guidelines for public transportation as per Transportation Security Administration guidance, masks will be expected for everyone on all WVU transportation including the PRT and buses through at least Sept. 13. The PRT and WVU buses will run on a normal schedule at 100% capacity beginning Aug. 2.
Classrooms will be at 100% capacity this fall, according to university officials. The university will follow a regular academic calendar, grading scale and attendance policies. Seating charts and seat assignments will still be required to assist in contact tracing when necessary.
In addition to classrooms opening at 100% capacity, dining halls and the Student Rec Center are open at 100% capacity as of June 20 with safety measures and cleaning procedures in place. According to officials, student organizations can organize and gather without limitations, and club and intramural sports can resume practice and competition without restrictions.
As of June 20, in-person events on campus resumed at 100% capacity and the Health and Safety Committee does not need to approve events, although it does recommend organizers use best practices, recommending outdoor events, plated or pre-packaged meals if food is served and readily available hand sanitizer.
Also June 20, concerts, plays and shows organized by WVU Arts & Entertainment and athletic events resumed on campus at 100% capacity.
Food Fest and Fall Fest, both of which attract large crowds in tight spaces, will not resume in their previous formats until a 70% vaccination rate is achieved, officials said.
West Virginia Wesleyan College
At West Virginia Wesleyan College, the Fall 2021 semester will involve in-person learning on the Buckhannon-based campus, according to Talley Sergent, chief development and marketing officer.
“The college will comply with the public health guidelines set forth by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) and the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department,” Sergent said. “We are working closely with local public health officials to ensure that we can create a safe environment for our campus community while also delivering a high-quality education for our students.
“The college will roll out a more defined ‘Arrival on Campus’ plan in the coming weeks so that students, their families and our campus community may prepare appropriately. We look forward to an exciting and successful in-person academic year.”
Fairmont State University
The Fairmont State University COVID-19 Task Force and Executive Leadership Team have worked closely with the Marion County Health Department and in consultation with other state agencies to reopen the university’s campus at full capacity this fall, according to officials.
Beginning July 6, FSU lifted its campus mask and face covering requirement for individuals who are fully vaccinated, and students, faculty and staff are being encouraged to register their vaccination status to assist the university’s efforts to track campus vaccination percentages.
Vaccination “Buddy Cards” will also be provided to members of the campus community who have registered their vaccine, and choose to display their vaccination status to share with others.
“Fairmont State University values health, safety and honesty,” said Fairmont State Chief of Police and Director of Emergency Management, Matt Swain. “We believe this expectation will be honored by our campus community and visitors.”
In addition, the university’s social distancing protocol has been discontinued on campus, and COVID-19 health screenings will no longer be solicited from campus visitors.
Campus services and events including dining halls, the Falcon Center, student organization gatherings, club and intramural sports, campus visits and tours, athletic events and in-person instruction will re-open at full capacity.
FSU is strongly encouraging vaccinations among the campus community as new variants of the coronavirus continue to surface.
Students, faculty and staff opting out of registering their vaccination status will be directed to fully participate in contact tracing should an exposure occur, complete the university’s Illness Reporting Form, quarantine if exposed to someone testing positive for COVID-19 or if COVID-related signs or symptoms occur and continue to wear a mask indoors unless alone in a private office.
“Fairmont State’s highest priority is the safety and well-being of all students, faculty and staff. As we have throughout the entire pandemic, we will continue to act out of an abundance of caution to protect our campus and surrounding communities,” Swain said.
Glenville State College has announced its plans to return to a pre-pandemic normal, with fall semester classes beginning on Aug. 16, according to officials.
Incoming first-time students will take part in a reinvigorated weeklong orientation beginning Aug. 9.
The orientation will include welcome activities, a concert, food and the traditional convocation ceremony that officially welcomes new students to the campus community, which is scheduled for Aug. 13 at 2 p.m.
The fall academic calendar sets final exams for Dec. 6-9, with the winter commencement ceremony taking place on Dec. 11.
Courses will once again be fully in-person, as they were prior to the pandemic, officials said, as most of the courses had been offered fully online or in a hybrid format over the past academic year due to COVID-19.
While COVID-19 vaccinations are encouraged, they will not be required of the GSC campus community.
Additionally, mask use is recommended for those who are not fully vaccinated when indoors and in general. The wearing of face coverings when outdoors is not required. However, masks can be worn outdoors at individual discretion in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.
Additionally, rooms will be assigned following traditional configurations, and common areas and elevators will be frequently disinfected by Physical Plant staff; off-campus commuter students will adhere to the same guidance as residential students; health services and mental health services will be available; fitness areas will operate with modified hours and occupancy restrictions.
Also included in their return-to-campus information: Students may wear masks while in class or any group setting at their discretion; all classrooms will have a supply of disinfecting products and masks and be disinfected regularly using products approved by the CDC; and campus shuttles will continue normal operation, with all riders being expected to wear a face covering.
“We are so looking forward to this upcoming fall semester here at Glenville State College,” said GSC President Dr. Mark A. Manchin. “Glenville State has done an outstanding job managing the virus, and with vaccination rates increasing and active Coronavirus cases declining all around the state and country, we are well-positioned for the fall to return to normal operations.
“We know our students are ready to be back living and learning in ways prior to the pandemic, and our faculty, staff and coaches are ready to welcome them back home.”
According to campus officials at Marshall University, COVID-19 protocols for the Fall 2021 Semester are still be developed and will be released to the university community as soon as they are finalized.
“We plan on a return to campus that is near normal in most instances,” officials said. “We are not requiring the vaccine, but are strongly encouraging all of our students, faculty and staff to get it.”
As of now, vaccinated students and employees will not be required to wear masks indoors but may do so if they prefer, but unvaccinated individuals should be prepared to wear masks in all areas, including outdoors.
A decision about masks in classrooms and other instructional spaces has not yet be made for the fall semester.
University officials said students are required to submit their current vaccine status in an online registry to help gauge whether or not the campus has reached herd immunity. The registry offers several possible responses, including an option to not disclose vaccine status.
A student vaccine incentive program on campus currently includes a weekly raffle for $250 gift cards for the campus bookstore and $300 packages of Herd Points.
Shepherd University announced their plans to bring students back to campus this fall by offering more face-to-face classes, normal residence hall capacity and expanded in-person activities and sports events.
“We are committed to fully opening Shepherd’s campus while keeping the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and guests as our top priority, and we are delighted to see a significant increase in students choosing to transfer to Shepherd for fall semester,” said university President Mary J.C. Hendrix.
The fall semester calendar will return to normal, with in-person new student convocation and campus orientation Aug. 20, and classes starting Aug. 23 with most fall classes having a face-to-face component.
Interim Provost Dr. Ben Martz said Shepherd is working to accommodate the needs of all students by offering a mix of class options, with 71% of courses being offered as in-person or hybrid.
“Some students find it more reassuring to sit in a classroom where they can ask questions while others prefer more self-paced learning with PowerPoints and recorded classes,” Martz said. “Depending on the mix of modes used by the faculty, students can find what fits their needs. Because a hybrid class can usually morph into either mode, students find the flexibility convenient.”
Due to COVID-19 protocols, most student organizations were unable to meet in person during the 2020-2021 school year and many activities were canceled or took place virtually. According to school officials, Student Activities has planned a return to predominantly in-person events including the annual involvement fair, Homecoming spirit week, intramurals and student club and organization events.
Additionally, officials are anticipating a more exciting year for student athletes, with the goal to return to a normal schedule pending final decisions from the NCAA and PSAC this summer.
“Our staff, coaches and student-athletes are beyond excited to get back to fall and winter competitions this year,” said Chauncey Winbush, vice president for athletics at Shepherd. “It will (have been) more than two years since several of our student-athletes have competed in meaningful games. All student-athletes work incredibly hard academically and athletically, with a goal of representing their universities on the court or field. They crave and love competition and can’t wait to represent Shepherd this fall.”
Winbush anticipates the NCAA will require COVID-19 testing protocols for athletics during the fall season.
“We are hoping that our student-athletes will take the initiative to get vaccinated to provide themselves with a better overall experience,” Winbush said.
The Campus Health Task Force, chaired by Holly Morgan Frye, vice president for student affairs, continues to meet this summer to review and update Shepherd’s COVID-19 policies, which are adjusted as new information becomes available.
Students will be asked to register their COVID-19 vaccines with the university prior to fall semester. Those who do not register will have to participate in onboard testing in August and surveillance testing throughout the semester and will be required to fill out a daily health check form. Anyone who is exposed to COVID-19 and who hasn’t registered a vaccine will be required to quarantine.
“Currently 65% of staff and faculty have registered their vaccines in the system, which is among the highest reported in West Virginia higher education,” Frye said. “We are proud of the fact that our employees have been proactive about getting vaccinated and registering their vaccines and encourage students returning for fall to follow that example. We will continue to keep everyone’s safety as our number one goal.”