Virginia Tech administrators address student coronavirus concerns | Education

Representatives of the Virginia School of Technology answered questions from students at City Hall on Thursday after President Tim Sands announced that the school’s mask mandate could be lifted soon.

Student Dean Byron Hughes and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Chris Wise said the university plans to pursue other mitigation strategies to protect student safety and prevent an increase in coronavirus cases.

Sands wrote a letter Monday to the campus community in which he said the university’s mandate for masks could be lifted within the next few weeks. As of August 2021, Virginia Tech requires masks in all premises such as classrooms, laboratories, sports fields and theaters.

Sands said the university follows the guidelines of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and tracks data on hospitalizations in the region, the number of staff and students in isolation, and the number of positive tests per 100,000 people on campus and in the community. These factors will be used to make the college’s decision to cancel the mask mandate.

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Wise said the university’s move is to transfer some of the responsibility from the school to individuals to protect themselves from the virus.

“We will continue to encourage people to do the right things for them, and the university leadership will continue to monitor the dashboard,” Wise said. “That doesn’t mean that changes may not happen the other way around depending on the numbers, but I will say that our numbers have changed dramatically over the last two weeks.”

On January 31, the university reported 331 new student cases and 154 staff cases. On Thursday, according to the dashboard, there were only 29 student cases and 36 staff cases.

Students were ambivalent about the news that the university was potentially revoking the mask mandate. Many attended the town hall network on Thursday, organized by the Undergraduate Senate students, to share their frustrations and speak out for and against the mask mandate. Students wondered how the university plans to support immunocompromised students and prefer student safety.

Wise said the university has bought more than 50,000 KN95 masks and continues to distribute them to faculty and students. The college also plans to continue to offer free testing six days a week.

The Virginia School of Technology’s COVID-19 guide meets several times a week to assess the university’s response and current level of positivity. Recently, the university has been monitoring not only the number of cases, but also the level of their severity in order to make political decisions. According to the dashboard, current cases on campus are reported to be asymptomatic, mild or moderate, although these figures are self-reported and do not include all cases.

Wise said the team discussed lifting the mandate for the mask last fall, but as soon as the Omicron option began to increase the number of cases, they decided to keep it in place.

The number of cases on campus is comparable to the previous wave of deltas, leading many to question why in the past there was a need to disguise and why the mandate could be revoked now. According to the CDC, the omicron wave has been shown to lead to less severe disease and fewer hospitalizations. Vaccination also reduces the risk of serious diseases.

More than 90% of students received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 70% received a booster. Since then, the university has also revoked its mandate for vaccines, which it established in June 2021.

“As this pandemic changes and changes, we will remember that now we are not where we were last semester or where we were a year ago,” Hughes said.

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