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WVU announces reopening protocols

MORGANTOWN — Campus life for students, professors and staff at West Virginia University will be different in the age of COVID-19, but WVU President Gordon Gee is encouraging the campus community to hang in there.

“As we near the end of July, we are over halfway through the year, I am certain no one envisioned this is what our world would be like as we rang in 2020,” Gee wrote in an open letter. “I know we can get through this if we hold ourselves accountable and are respectful of each other.”

WVU released its guidelines for a phased return to campus Monday afternoon. The protocols apply to not just WVU, but WVU Tech in Beckley and Potomac State University in Keyser.

“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,” Gee said. “If this were to occur, the probability of an all online semester would escalate. Therefore, West Virginia University will implement a phased return this fall on the Morgantown campus.”

Classes on the Morgantown campus will start a week later than originally scheduled, beginning on Aug. 26. Classes at WVU Tech and Potomac State will continue as scheduled on Aug. 19, as will classes in the Online Degree Program.

Students can start moving into residence halls Aug. 15 through Aug. 22. Students moving into WVU-owned apartments can move in on Saturday. Students attending on-campus courses will be required to be tested for COVID-19, with testing dates available starting the week of Aug. 17. It’s recommended that any student returning to Morgantown, even if they choose to take online courses, be tested.

“I want to make one thing abundantly clear: West Virginia University is committed to providing each of you with a safe environment to teach and to learn,” Gee said. “This is an interim measure to allow us to do that. We are hopeful that we can return more students to in-person instruction as the semester continues.”

At one point, Monongalia County led the state in active COVID-19 cases, peaking at 394 cases on July 20. As of Tuesday, Monongalia County’s active cases dropped to 138.

Gov. Jim Justice issued executive order closing bars in Monongalia County due to the number of active cases among teenagers and young adults. Residents between the ages of 10 and 29 account for 64 percent of active cases.

“We have been closely monitoring the local health conditions, as well as those across the nation,” Gee said. “Monongalia County and Morgantown saw a significant increase in positive cases beginning in early July. Our state leadership took swift action to mitigate the spread, including mandatory masks indoors and closing bars in Morgantown. Those responses have worked, as our community continues to see a decline in cases.”

As WVU works on a revised delivery of courses, the goal will be to reduce density of classes while also trying to create a positive on-campus experience for freshmen, returning graduate students, and professional students. Most upper division classes for undergraduates will be offered either online or a mix of online and in-person classes. Classes that require hands-on work, such as laboratory, clinical and studio classes, will still be offered depending on the need.

Graduate and professional students who are part of the Health Sciences program will receive additional guidance from deans and program directors. Other professional programs could have alternative start dates. Campus classes will end Nov. 25 and not resume until the start of the spring semester, with the remainder of fall instruction going online. Residence halls will close until the spring semester, though WVU-operated apartments will remain open.

Students who receive all their courses online will only be charged $220 in student fees, which is $440 less than normal, as well as a 6.42 percent reduction in room and board and a 6.36 percent reduction in dining plan costs.

Gee said he knows the phased protocols won’t keep someone from getting infected and any future decisions on closures or limiting on-campus access might need to be made to control the spread on campus and in the community.

“As much as I want everyone back on campus, I know this is the right decision,” Gee said. “Though COVID-19 has created much chaos in our lives, there is one thing I know for certain: We are family at West Virginia University. We take care of each other. We support each other. And we will do the right thing when it is asked of us.”

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