CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia University will require testing of all students, faculty and staff for the coronavirus before they can return to campus for the start of fall classes, the university announced Wednesday.
Students must wear masks on campus, including in class, when the fall semester begins on Aug. 19, the university said in a news release. Students will go home for Thanksgiving and finish the semester's classes online, the university said.
The move is seen as a crucial step toward launching football and other fall sports. Conference commissioners nationwide have stressed to Vice President Mike Pence that college athletics cannot resume until campuses reopen. Big 12 schools have all announced their intentions to have students on campus this fall.
"We have given careful consideration to the wisdom of returning to campus while the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us," West Virginia President Gordon Gee said in a statement. "However, it is clear our students want to be with their professors and fellow Mountaineers. We are taking every precaution and making every preparation possible so they can do that safely."
Faculty, staff and students must complete a coronavirus education course before Aug. 11, the statement said.
To limit widespread movement, the university said students will remain on campus with no typical fall break. The last day of in-person classes will be Nov. 24 before the Thanksgiving break. Students will not return to campus for the rest of the fall semester, instead finishing up with online instruction, including final exams.
The spring semester will start on campus Jan. 19 and continue with no spring break through April 30, the university said. Finals will be held on campus from May 3 through 7, 2021.
The statement said a separate schedule for the return of faculty and staff to campus will be released later.
The university will be counting on students, faculty and staff to maintain social distancing and other safety measures in order for its three campuses to remain open this fall. Health officials said there have been at least 2,070 confirmed cases of the virus in the state and at least 78 deaths.
To reduce the risk of spreading the virus, some employees will continue to work from home, which will allow the university to manage necessary cleaning and safety supplies and maintain costs.
Dr. Clay Marsh, the state's coronavirus chief and vice president and executive dean for health sciences at WVU, said while the actions of West Virginians so far have saved lives, "the tricky part" will be reopening campus this fall.
He said "the most effective way to reopen safely, slow the spread of the virus, protect our campus community and save lives is to wear a mask."
Last week the Marshall University Faculty Senate approved a plan for students to return to campus for classes starting Aug. 24.
Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert said in a letter that the Huntington school adjusted its academic calendar to minimize travel to and from campus. Like WVU, Marshall students will not return to campus after the Thanksgiving break in November, completing the semester online.
The spring semester will start on Jan. 19. Spring break will be reduced to a three-day weekend starting March 19. The semester will end with in-person classes in late April, Gilbert said.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.