First day back at Virginia Tech, new policies are in place

Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 11:38 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Virginia Tech students are back in class, and new policies have been put into place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Anyone who is on campus is expected to always wear a face covering unless he or she is exercising. The school is also limiting gatherings to 15 people to help reduce the spread of the virus.

In a video released on the eve before classes, VP for Student Affairs Frank Shushok laid down the law.

“Our on-campus opportunities for this semester are increasingly fragile,” he said.

University spokesman Mark Owczarski said it was not a last-minute push, but rather a continuous effort that began in March to develop good practices. Owczarski said the school won’t let up until COVID-19 goes away.

“We remain hopeful, but we recognize the fragile state that we’re in, knowing that if just a few people don’t join in on the effort to do all the right things, then we could be in a very difficult situation,” Owczarski said.

Last week, seven students were placed on immediate suspension for taking part in gatherings of more than 50 people. Owczarski said that number has not changed since the weekend.

“If you put people in harm’s way, that’s a violation of our code of conduct,” he said.

According to Owczarski, they will do what they can to expedite hearings and proceedings that need to happen if a student is suspended.

“I understand why we’re doing it so I can’t really complain because safety is the most important,” said senior Meena Kannan. “We’ve spent the last three years here, so it was important to us to also spend our senior year in Blacksburg where we started. Even if we have to wear masks and follow all of these restrictions, I think it’s worth it in the end.”

Of the students we spoke to, not a single one had an in-person class Monday; many of them are only taking courses online.

“I didn’t really have a choice because I already paid for everything and signed up, but it’s also different to work at school than to be at home,” said freshman Brian Smith.

Smith said one of his classes was supposed to be in person, but it switched to online as the semester got closer.

“It’s all to keep us here on campus so if it’s to keep us on campus and to keep us safe I’m perfectly fine with any choice they make on restrictions,” Smith said.

Senior Jessica Mrdian said even the in-person classes still have online portions. She said in her lab it’s an excused absence if you have any symptoms of the virus.

Owczarski said the university wants students to help each other follow public health guidelines as often as they can. Students tell us for the most part if they say something, their peers will listen.

“We’ll basically yell at them to wear their masks, because we all know that we’re not going to be here if everybody doesn’t follow the rules, so we might as well follow the rules that are put into place so we can have a good year, as good as it gets,” Kannan said. “For the most part people are receptive because I think they understand that they need to wear masks if they want to be here.”

Freshman Tanav Voddepalli said he has been on campus and seen the evolution of mask-wearing outside.

“You can definitely tell it’s gotten stricter and stricter as more people have gotten here,” Voddepalli said. “Outside is the biggest difference that I have seen.”

“Being here, I just love it, and I don’t want to go back home, so it’s so important that we follow these rules so we don’t get sent back,” Fugleberg said.

Owczarski said they are taking things day by day and that there is no magic number yet that would make them switch to a 100-percent virtual model. He said they are working closely with public health officials to see what’s happening in hospitals, with first responders and the public schools.

“We assess our situation every day,” Owczarski said. “It’s one of the reasons why we created the dashboard to know what our community is facing.”

The dashboard is updated every Monday with new positive cases on campus. The school is reporting 21 positive cases currently.

The school says more than 60 percent of classes are being taught online this semester and less than 10 percent of classes are being taught entirely in person to help limit the spread of germs.

Ultimately, the school says everything falls into the hands of both students and community members to do their part, mask up and follow public health guidelines to keep everyone safe.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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