From President Tim Sands: Booster shots, tests, and masks required for spring semester start
We can all be proud of how our community responded to COVID-19 throughout the fall semester. We took important steps early on to give ourselves the best chance at a full, in-person experience, and we stuck with it. As a result, our active cases, positivity rate, and isolation numbers were consistently manageable from start to finish. We were able to enjoy many of the cherished hallmarks of the Hokie experience.
We must begin the new year with that same commitment as we will likely be fighting two COVID-19 variants along with seasonal influenza and other common respiratory infections. Our goal is to operate safely and in person to the greatest extent possible, while also protecting the capacity of the health care systems in our communities.
Building on our successful strategy in the fall, we are requiring our community to take three important steps as we turn to the spring semester:
First, get a COVID-19 booster as soon as you are eligible.
Our biggest challenge is likely to occur with the omicron variant in the first few weeks of the semester. Although evidence is still coming in, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot.
We are requiring booster shots within 14 days of eligibility for all students and employees. If you are eligible now, updated information is due by Feb. 1, and we urge you to get your booster as soon as possible. If you are not eligible yet, please schedule your booster as soon as you are able to do so. Students and employees need to upload their updated vaccination record as soon as they receive a booster dose. Procedures remain in place for students and employees to request medical and religious exemptions. Existing exemptions will be honored. For those with medical concerns about the booster shot, please consult your physician.
Second, take a COVID-19 test before returning to campus or your workplace.
All residential students will be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result prior to moving back onto campus. A PCR or Antigen test will be accepted and must be administered no more than 72 hours before returning to campus. We urge you to obtain your test results prior to arriving on campus. Testing will be provided for those students who cannot obtain a test before arriving, however if you test positive on arrival, you will not be able to move into on-campus housing until you have completed your isolation period.
All students and employees who have traveled over the holiday break are asked to take a COVID-19 test prior to the start of the semester. If your result is positive, please do not return to campus or Virginia Tech facilities until you complete the recommended isolation period. Many pharmacies provide testing services. The VDH website also provides testing location information. Testing for students and employees will resume on the Blacksburg campus on Jan. 3.
We will continue to test unvaccinated students and employees weekly and conduct limited surveillance testing of vaccinated community members. Those with updated vaccination records including a booster will be exempt.
Third, continue to wear a mask and take steps to improve your mask strategy.
While we had hoped to relax mask requirements for indoor public spaces, the uptick in infections tells us our best approach is to continue wearing masks in indoor public and instructional spaces for at least the beginning of the spring semester. Beyond vaccines, masks are the most important tool we have for reducing the spread of COVID-19.
If you have been using loose-fitting cloth or surgical masks, now is the time to upgrade to a better fitting and more protective mask such as a KN95 or equivalent. The omicron variant appears to be more transmissible, and these masks protect you and others. If you have any risk factors or are not fully vaccinated, please consider wearing masks to protect yourself indoors even when not required.
We will provide any additional details and updates to our policies and protocols through the Ready site and email. Currently, the isolation and quarantine plan for residential students remains the same as the fall semester. Please work with your family to develop a plan should you become infected with COVID-19. As with any communicable disease, the Schiffert Health Center and the Dean of Students Office will work closely with students to implement their plans or pursue alternative solutions as needed.
We all wish that this pandemic was over and moved into the background of our everyday lives. But for now, we must continue to ask for the same extraordinary patience, understanding, and commitment you’ve displayed over the past 21 months. The actions we take today build on last semester’s successful strategy and give us the best opportunity to protect our community and maintain the Virginia Tech campus experience we all hope for this spring. Together we can get there.