West Virginia University Potomac State College kicked off its 118th fall semester with its first day of classes Wednesday, Aug. 19. However, unlike any other fall semester in the College’s history, faculty, staff and students are navigating the global COVID-19 pandemic. The campus community is dealing with a different environment including mitigating classroom, dining and study area capacities; rerouting foot traffic in buildings and implementing new protocols such as wearing masks – both inside and outside – and physically distancing, among other precautionary measures.
“It is wonderful to see students, faculty and staff on campus again. It is the people who make the campus so vibrant and exciting and we want to be able to stay on campus,” President Jennifer Orlikoff said. “To do this, we have implemented many measures and protocols for this fall that are intended to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
Moving into the residence halls went from two to three days to allow for physical distancing. Students were limited to two additional guests to help them move-in and everyone was required to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer stationed throughout the buildings.
In addition to unpacking, setting up their rooms and purchasing their books, students were registering to take their COVID-19 tests and completing an online COVID-19 education module. All students and employees are required to complete these requirements by Aug. 22 or could be subject to disciplinary actions.
In total, 1,044 individuals were tested over the three days via the drive-through and walk-in test site at the J. Edward Kelley Complex. “We are so appreciative of all of the help from A. Jay Root and the health department, the National Guard, the sheriff’s office, and of the tireless efforts of our facilities workers, campus police and all of the nursing student volunteers under the guidance of Dr. April Shapiro and Rachel Raschella,” President Orlikoff said.
Freshman Lamont Lee, far left, on move-in day with his mom and younger brother.
Every individual who tested received a Welcome Back kit that included a WVU branded cloth mask, disposable masks, hand sanitizer, moist wipes, and a no-touch antivirus keychain to pull open door handles and push elevator buttons.
For students remaining on campus, canopies were set up around campus allowing for students to congregate in smaller groups outside and yard games were set up on the Quad. All students were invited to participate in virtual activities such as trivia games, bingo and an escape room.
“The challenges of this year have presented us new opportunities to find innovative ways to engage our students and create a sense of community that is critical to the success of a college campus. We are relying on one another to be diligent in making decisions that keep this campus and local community safe while ensuring a fulfilling student experience,” said Dean of Student Experience Lucas Taylor.
The majority of classes this semester are being taught in-person. Additional options include synchronous online classes where students log-in at scheduled times with the instructor, asynchronous online, where students are not required to log-in at the same time, and hybrid courses where students attend both face-to-face and online.
Donning a mask, History Professor Cassandra Pritts reviews her syllabus with students, who are also required to masks up and implement physical distancing.
Additionally, classrooms and labs, look different with seating blocked off to allow for physical distancing and plexiglass shields installed in front of classrooms for lecturers to stand behind. All students are required to wear masks. All face-to-face classes will have assigned seating for the purpose of contact tracing should the need arise.
“Our dedicated faculty spent the summer completing virtual trainings of new delivery models provided by WVU’s Teaching and Learning Commons, preparing their courses, and ensuring they were knowledgeable of all safety requirements to return to the classroom,” Academics Dean Gregory Ochoa said. “The Mary Shipper Library is open and ready to serve students with physically distanced study spaces. Tutoring is provided at the Academic Success Center by appointment with limited staff and students as well as by Zoom virtual sessions.”
What to Do If a Member of the Campus Community Tests Positive
The College has developed detailed instructions for students and employees in certain COVID-19 situations, including being asked to isolate due to a positive test or to quarantine for being a close contact.
Tracking COVID-19 Data
WVU launched a public dashboard earlier this month to track and compile COVID-19 information collected during testing across the WVU System.
As part of the University’s commitment to protecting the safety and well-being of its campuses and surrounding communities, the dashboard (https://www.wvu.edu/return-to-campus/daily-test-results) will be updated Monday-Friday by 11 a.m. and include information regarding students and employees broken out by campus.
All students, faculty and staff receive an email invitation each day to complete their daily COVID-19 wellness survey. Individuals are asked if they have knowingly been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 24 hours. Additionally, they may be asked if, within the past 24 hours, they had symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, chills, sore throat, headache and/or loss of taste or smell. Submitted data is confidential and for internal use only.
Those who answer the wellness survey and receive clearance to come to campus will receive an electronic “pass” for that day on their personal device. Having the electronic pass may be required to access certain areas/buildings on campus.
This information will help the University to understand the rates of infection in the campus communities and gather critical information to make appropriate decisions for the University.
A student utilizes one of the library’s new study pods that just happens to also promote physical distancing.
Jacob Fischer, a returning sophomore and physics major, from Rio, W.Va., who also serves as a resident assistant, took the Wellness Survey for the first time Wednesday before heading to his first classes. “I think it will be useful keeping possibly infected students from coming to campus,” he said.
“I think the precautionary measures around campus are adequate to hopefully keep us on campus for the whole semester,” Fischer said. “I feel protected from COVID when on campus.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is always evolving making this a very fluid situation,” President Orlikoff said. “Policies, procedures and information are likely to change as we go through the fall, which is why we ask for students, parents, faculty, and staff to be mindful and patient with one another as we deal with and overcome this historical event.”