A message to Blacksburg Hokies from President Tim Sands
To our Hokies in Blacksburg,
As of the morning of March 29, 2020, more than 2,000 Americans had succumbed to COVID-19 and over 120,000 had tested positive. The doubling rate is still on the order of three days. Social distancing and other more stringent measures could slow this increase, but there is no strong evidence of that effect yet at the national scale. If this rapid rate of spread continues, models indicate that over 100,000 Americans could lose their lives to COVID-19 during the next few months.
While this would be an extreme result, it is a tragically realistic estimate if we were to do nothing to flatten the curve by limiting the spread of the disease.
At Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, we are fortunate that the campus depopulated on March 6. Two weeks of spring break allowed us to prepare. We moved instruction online, closed the dining halls except for pickup and delivery, and issued housing rebates and dining plan refunds and rollovers to reduce the campus residential population to less than 10 percent of normal when instruction resumed on March 23. Most employees are telecommuting under reduced operations. Essential employees are following strict hygiene and distancing guidelines. If conditions indicate, we are prepared to move to restrict operations further while maintaining health, safety, food, IT, and essential research functions.
While we have been successful in limiting the opportunity for COVID-19 to spread on campus, we have a more challenging situation in the neighborhoods that surround it. About 60 percent of our off-campus student population left the area, but many remain, and some returned from travel or spring break to their residences. Of the 40 percent who remain, many have no better option. For many international students and graduate students, Blacksburg is their home.
Most of our students in Blacksburg are heeding the CDC and Virginia Tech guidelines. To those students, I want to thank you. You are saving lives in our neighborhood and beyond. To those who returned primarily because you were expecting to enjoy hanging out and partying with your friends, I hope you have realized by now that this was a mistake. If you really have nowhere else to go, you are welcome to stay, but the community expects you to follow public health guidelines. The governor has asked that no more than 10 people occupy the same space, that you maintain 6 feet of separation, and that hands and surfaces are cleaned frequently. This is necessary but not sufficient. I ask you to stay at home when you can, and limit in-person interactions to those with whom you share living quarters. Spending time outdoors is fine but do so alone or only with those with whom you live. If you experience symptoms, self-isolate immediately, and report your condition to the appropriate medical or public health authority. If you have traveled anywhere out of the region (even Northern Virginia) in the last two weeks, self-isolate and see this notice for reporting instructions. The degree to which we can flatten the curve in Blacksburg depends largely on your choices. And please be reminded — while COVID-19 generally affects younger individuals less severely than those who are older and those who have predisposing health conditions, spread of infections among younger individuals such as yourselves places more susceptible community members at risk. Your behavior affects others.
Over the next many days and weeks, Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Shushok will be working with Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson and the town leadership to ensure that these measures are strictly enforced both by the town and by the university.
If there was ever a time when Ut Prosim required individual and collective action, this is it.