WVU campuses plan full return to in-person class this fall

Special to the News Tribune
File photo of West Virginia University

MORGANTOWN— 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.

COVID-19 numbers within the U.S. and West Virginia have significantly decreased as the number of vaccinations has increased. As of Monday, June 14, there were 2,799 active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia, a decrease of 57% from this time a month ago.

The state is currently experiencing the lowest transmissibility rates since the pandemic began, according to data provided by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. At this time, more than 52% of West Virginians above the age of 12 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

This, coupled with proven preventative measures such as masks, physical distancing, self-symptom monitoring, COVID-19 testing and good personal hygiene (e.g. handwashing and hand sanitizer), shows WVU students and employees have access to the tools to fight COVID-19 and the spread of the disease to others.

West Virginia University’s highest priority is to offer a fully in-person, on-campus academic and student experience 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.

Details for the fall semester may be adjusted based on infection and hospitalization rates and input from health experts. Unless noted, this information pertains to WVU campuses in Morgantown, Keyser and Beckley, as well as Health Sciences campuses in Martinsburg and Charleston. Importantly, WVU Medicine and patient care clinics located in Health Sciences have their own set of policies, procedures and protocols for staff, patients and visitors.

Vaccines

At this time, WVU strongly encourages everyone to be vaccinated but it is not required for faculty, staff or students. The university will reevaluate vaccination requirements upon FDA approval.

Those who have yet to be vaccinated, but would like to be, can find available vaccination appointments at http://vaccines.gov. Vaccines continue to be readily available across the country.

As of Tuesday, June 15,  25% of students and 36% of employees on the Morgantown campus have verified that they have been vaccinated. Five percent of students and 35% of employees at Potomac State College in Keyser have verified their vaccination. Eight percent of students and nearly 38% of employees at WVU Tech in Beckley have verified their vaccination.

All students, faculty and staff 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 you become 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.

Students, faculty or staff who believe they are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons may apply for an exemption and accommodation. Employees can fill out a modification request or email coronavirusmodification@mail.wvu.edu. Students should contact Accessibility Services at 304-293-6700 or access2@mail.wvu.edu.

All employees and students will be required to take a new COVID-19 educational module prior to Aug. 12. More information will be available in July.

Masks

Effective June 20, fully vaccinated individuals will no longer be required to wear a mask indoors or outdoors on campus.

Those not fully vaccinated are expected to wear a mask while inside all University facilities and outdoors when around other people.

Consistent with federal guidelines for public transportation, masks will be expected for everyone on all WVU transportation including the PRT and buses through at least Sept. 13, as per Transportation Security Administration guidance.

Those who are fully vaccinated and would like to continue wearing a mask for additional protection are encouraged to do so.

Individuals will not be required to demonstrate proof of vaccination on campus but need to complete the vaccine verification process.

Academics and Research

Classrooms will be at 100% capacity this fall. 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.

Vaccinated individuals are not required to wear a mask in the classroom but may choose to wear one. Those who are not vaccinated are expected to wear a mask.

Plexiglass will be available for faculty who wish to use it. In addition, hand sanitizer and cleaning materials will be available in the classroom or nearby hallway.

The university will continue to evaluate study abroad opportunities on a case-by-case basis.

Non-human research activities will resume at 100% capacity effective June 20. Human research should continue under previous spring 2021 guidance while any potential changes are pending.

Student Life

The PRT and WVU buses will run on normal schedules at 100% capacity beginning Aug. 2. Masks must be worn by everyone at all times on University buses and the PRT through at least Sept. 13.

Dining halls will open at 100% capacity with safety measures and enhanced cleaning procedures in place. Plexiglass dividers will be available in dining facilities for those who would like to use them.

The Student Rec Center will open at 100% capacity June 20. Unvaccinated individuals are expected to wear a mask inside the facility.

Student organizations can organize and gather without limitations. Additionally, club and intramural sports can resume practice and competition without restrictions. It is highly recommended that these gatherings take place outdoors. Unvaccinated individuals are expected to wear a mask at these events.

Up All Night will resume in-person activities, catering to both large and small groups, as well as providing some virtual experiences. Unvaccinated individuals are expected to wear a mask at these events.

Residence Halls

Residence hall move-in will take place from Thursday, Aug. 12, through Saturday, Aug. 14. Students may select and register for a time slot; every hall will offer time slots each day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Registration for time slots will open around July 6.

Students who are part of a program that requires early arrival (e.g. band, athletics) will receive information directly from the program with the date they should plan to arrive on campus.

Students should watch their MIX email account, WVU websites and social media accounts in late June for information on the registration process, securing a time slot and what to do regarding extenuating circumstances that may require an arrival before Aug. 12.

There is no limit to the number of family members who can help move students into their residence hall rooms. Unvaccinated individuals are expected to wear a mask.

A limited number of volunteers will be available to assist those moving into residence halls during move-in.

Guests are welcome to visit residence halls throughout the semester, as well, following standard visitation policies. Unvaccinated visitors must follow University guidelines and are expected to wear masks.

The move-in process for University Apartments, including College Park, University Park, University Place and Vandalia, will begin on Saturday, Aug. 1 and continue through Friday, Aug. 13. Detailed move-in information will be released the week of July 5. Residents should watch their MIX email account and WVU social media accounts in late June for information on the registration process, roommate assignments, what to bring and more.

New students at WVU Tech will move in on Friday, Aug. 13, through Sunday, Aug. 15. Returning students will move in on Monday, Aug. 16, and Tuesday, Aug. 17. Additional information is available at the Return to Campus website.

Details regarding Potomac State College’s move-in will be announced at a later date.

Visitors on Campus

Departments and units will be responsible for sharing university policy and practices with visitors they invite to campus. All visitors, including vendors and contractors, will need to continue to follow university safety guidelines while on campus; unvaccinated visitors are expected to wear a mask while on campus.

Departments and units should continue to use good judgment when determining when to bring visitors to campus (e.g. interview job candidates via Zoom before bringing final candidates to campus).

The Visitors Center will open to normal capacity for tours and visits effective June 20. Guests will need to follow University safety guidelines while on campus; unvaccinated visitors are expected to wear a mask while on campus and all visitors must wear a mask while on University transportation through at least Sept. 13.

Welcome Week

The university will offer a variety of activities - including some traditional Welcome Week activities and some new offerings - beginning on Aug. 12 and continuing through Aug. 20.

Monday Night Lights will take place on Aug. 16 for all incoming first-time students at Milan Puskar Stadium where they will have the opportunity to take a class photo.

In addition, a survey will be sent to sophomore students who did not get to participate in a traditional Welcome Week last year due to COVID-19 restrictions. This survey will ask sophomores for input on what activities they might like to participate in as they return this fall.

Mountaineer MovieFest will take place at the WVU Coliseum as part of Welcome Week and will include a student organization fair.

Due to anticipated large crowds, the university will offer smaller events with food and music events across campus during Welcome Week. If 70% of the student body on the Morgantown campus verifies their vaccine by Aug. 1, the university is committed to holding a larger concert (e.g. FallFest) later in the 2021-22 academic year, depending on COVID-19 cases, infection rates and other current public health considerations.

A variety of adventure, recreation and service activities will be available for new and returning students to choose from between Aug. 13-17. Academic sessions also will be scheduled.

More details regarding Welcome Week will be available in July.

Travel

Fully vaccinated individuals may resume non-business travel activities. However, they should note travel restrictions and safety guidance in the area of intended travel.

University-related business travel will remain limited and require prior approval from a unit vice president or dean. Travel related to externally funded projects does not require vice president or dean approval.

Testing and Isolation

Individuals who have not verified their vaccination status with WVU by Aug. 1 will be expected to be tested prior to the start of the fall semester. Unvaccinated individuals will be randomly selected for regular screening testing throughout the fall semester.

Opportunities for testing for those who were exposed to COVID-19 will also be available. Contact tracing will continue on WVU’s campuses. Those who test positive will need to isolate and follow instructions provided by contact tracers.

The university will resume weekly COVID-19 updates through a dashboard on the Return to Campus website, which will feature testing information and vaccination rates.

Events

In-person events may resume on campus at 100% capacity effective June 20. The Health and Safety Committee does not need to approve events, but does recommend organizers use best practices. It is recommended events take place outdoors if possible, and plated or pre-packaged meals are preferred if food is served. Hand sanitizer should be made readily available at the event. Masks are expected for those who have yet to be vaccinated.

In addition, concerts, plays and shows organized by WVU Arts & Entertainment may resume on campus at 100% capacity effective June 20. Masks are expected for those who have yet to be vaccinated.

Athletics events will also be held at 100% capacity, and the WVU Athletic Department will separately announce details relating to sporting events in the near future.

More information

The campus community is invited to join a Return to Campus Conversation on Thursday, June 17, from 10-11:15 a.m. to hear from administrators and ask them questions. Questions can be submitted or emailed to returntocampus@mail.wvu.edu.

Stay tuned to enews.wvu.edu and MOUNTAINEER E-News — as well as students.wvu.edu and Unews — for additional updates about the fall semester, which will be shared throughout the coming weeks.

In the meantime, visit the Return to Campus website for the latest information.