MORGANTOWN— West Virginia University president Gordon Gee admonished students for not following safety protocols in off-campus gatherings in a letter Wednesday to the campus and Morgantown communities.


Later Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice announced during his daily COVID-19 briefing that he was closing down Morgantown bars again as the positive rate in Monongalia County escalated.


Read the letter.


To the West Virginia University and Morgantown Communities:


I am aware of the photos and commentary that are circulating on social media showing West Virginia University students gathering outside local bars in downtown Morgantown. To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement.


With the opening of bars, it was anticipated our students who are of age would be patrons. But the lack of following safety protocols – including not wearing masks or following physical distancing guidelines – is a flagrant disregard for our community’s safety, both the campus community and the city of Morgantown.


Faculty and staff at West Virginia University have worked tirelessly all summer to bring our students back to campus this fall. We heard the many voices – of both students and parents – who wanted us to open campus for learning. We created a plan to do so, and following a spike of positive cases in July, the University quickly pivoted to reduce capacity on campus while incorporating additional safety protocols to keep the community safe.


We have been transparent with our Return to Campus plans. Expectations were clearly defined and shared – repeatedly – with students and parents. We emphasized that each of us would have to be accountable, respectful and responsible for each other and for our individual behaviors if we wanted to have a successful semester.


I am proud of those students, faculty and staff who are demonstrating our Mountaineer Values every day. I would estimate that 90 percent of our campus community are doing the right things to stay safe and healthy.


But, as always, it is the actions of a few that bring negative attention to our University. However, during this time of a global pandemic, these same actions lead to more than unwanted headlines and social media shaming. These actions will lead to serious consequences including additional community spread of COVID-19 and the closing of an on-campus learning environment.


To the Morgantown community, we will continue working with our students to stress the safety protocols. We will identify as many students as possible that are not following the guidelines and refer them to Student Conduct for appropriate discipline. I assure you we are taking these incidents extremely seriously. And we will continue to partner with the City of Morgantown and the Monongalia County Health Department to keep our community safe and healthy.


To our West Virginia University community, we must continue making the right choices on campus and off campus. Follow the safety guidelines – wash your hands, wear your mask, physical distance at least 6 feet. Avoid large gatherings. Hold yourself and others accountable.


And remember why you are here: to receive a valuable education that will influence your future for decades to come. Do not squander the opportunity you have before you for a fleeting moment in a setting that is dangerous to your health and the health of the community.


This is a critical moment for West Virginia University. If we want to continue on-campus learning, we must make the right choices. We must make the important decisions that lead to responsible action. To do anything less will most certainly lead us down an irreversible path.


E. Gordon Gee


President, West Virginia University