By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Although West Virginia University president Gordon Gee announced Monday that WVU students would be returning to classes in phases beginning next month, students attending Potomac State College are still scheduled to return to campus on Aug. 19.
In a letter to WVU students Monday, Gee said the decision to phase in the fall semester was made with the recent spike in COVID positives in Monongalia County.
"There is concern among local and state public health officials, as well as university leadership, that a full return to campus in Morgantown would place both the campus and local communities at a greater risk for an increase in positive cases and transmission rates," he wrote. "If this were to occur, the probability of an all online semester would escalate.
"As a result, the majority of upper-division undergraduate courses will be transitioned to online or hybrid delivery. Hands-on courses, such as laboratory classes, clinical and studio classes, may still be offered face-to-face, as determined by each academic program.
"We are particularly focused on ensuring that our graduating seniors have the courses they need to successfully complete their degree programs. A final academic schedule will be released on or around Wednesday, Aug. 5, and we appreciate your patience as our colleges and schools make these decisions. "
In a followup letter to incoming Potomac State students, however, campus president Jennifer Orlikoff said PSC students would not be following WVU’s phased-in plan.
"At this time, Potomac State College will continue with its plans for students to move into the residence halls Aug. 12, 13 and 14; receive COVID testing Aug. 13, 14 and 15; and begin classes Wednesday, Aug. 19," she wrote.
Orlikoff noted that the decision had been made while closely monitoring the positive COVID rates in Mineral County, which have been lower than those in Morgantown and Monongalia County.
"Currently, Mineral County has tested a total of 3,514 individuals with 97 positive results, which is a 2.8% positivity rate," she said.
"Our smaller class sizes and presence on campus allow us to continue with our original plan as scheduled as we have the benefit of increased flexibility for social distancing and preventive health measures.
"However, I need to stress that the success for a healthy campus will rely on everyone’s vigilance in wearing their masks, washing their hands, using hand sanitizer, and social distancing when in the company of others," she said.
Orlikoff said college officials would continue to monitor the situation and "make decisions based on what is best for the health and safety of both our college and Keyser communities."