Town Hall addresses testing, return of Virginia Tech students

Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 8:03 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Coronavirus cases are top of mind as thousands of students are getting ready to head back to Blacksburg for the fall semester at Virginia Tech.

As part of our ‘The New Back to School’ series, we’re taking a closer look at what the return of students means on and off campus.

Friday, President Dr. Tim Sands held a virtual town hall to answer community questions about what this return will look like.

“I can’t emphasize enough that personal responsibility that’s required to be successful this fall,” Sands said.

It’s a responsibility that’s crucial as students make their way back. President Sands emphasized the need for students to stay with small ‘pods’ of friends.

“We do need our students to hold up your end of the bargain,” Sands said. “We are going to provide all of the support we can, but the university can’t do this alone. We need the support of all of our community members, not just our students.”

School leaders said pods of friends should commit to check in with and support each other.

“Really, it’s a contract you make with those you can spend time with so that you can be together, just like a family group, probably most students coming back have already been in these pods,” said Laura Hungerford of the Department of Population Health Sciences.

Students who will be living on campus must have a negative COVID-19 test from home within five days of their arrival, or schedule one through the health center.

“Health and safety is our first priority,” Sands said. “While we cannot manage risk to zero, we do believe we have a plan that will allow Virginia Tech to move incrementally toward more normal operations.”

COVID-19 cases will not be publicly identified with Virginia Tech, instead counting toward Montgomery County totals. We asked the school and the health district director why this is necessary.

“If it doesn’t change the public health message, then why would I separate that out? Because you know as well as I do that there’s a lot of anxiety about the students returning,” said New River Health District Director Dr. Noelle Bissell. “This community is working tirelessly to protect our public health. The last thing we need to do is separate things out and put blame on one community group.”

“We’re all in this together, it’s our community and our students are a vital part of that,” said university spokesman Mark Owczarski. “They are expected to do their part.”

Starting next week, you’ll begin to see community-wide messaging at businesses and on campus to show that it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep the spread of coronavirus under control.

You can watch the entire town hall here.

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