New River Valley college students travel home for holidays

NEW RIVER VALLEY, Va. (WDBJ) -Friday marked the last day of in person instruction for college students in the New River Valley.

Schedule changes were put into place at Virginia Tech and Radford University to prevent too much travel to and from both campuses, especially with the holiday season right around the corner. Virginia Tech shifts to a one week Thanksgiving break followed up by one week of online instruction and a week of virtual final exams. Radford students took their last finals on Friday.

“We did it, we finished the fall 2020 semester here on the Radford University campus,” said university spokesperson Caitlyn Scaggs. “We had a comprehensive plan in place and that guided us so well, and at the same time we were adaptive to the challenges that came up along the way.”

Leaders from both schools can now take a deep breath after watching cases surge with the return of students eventually dwindle off now at the end of the semester.

“Getting this far and doing so in a manner where we were able to manage COVID throughout the fall semester is really remarkable,” said Virginia Tech spokesperson Mark Owczarski. “I think it speaks a lot of our students.”

A learning curve at first, but by and large students at both schools quickly found out the way to stay here was to follow the rules. About 110 Tech students were disciplined for not following them with 15 one semester suspensions. Sixty-six at Radford have a final warning, eight were suspended for fall and 11 for spring.

“The success of the pandemic and managing the pandemic comes from people learning the right things to do,” Owczarski said. “The good thing about the judicial process at Virginia Tech is it’s an opportunity to learn and at the end of the day, that’s what we really want.”

It was a success that eventually became more measurable as both universities launched COVID-19 dashboards, separating university cases from the general public.

“We very much value having our Highlanders here on campus, even if it looks a little different than a traditional semester, and we are doing everything in our power to plan accordingly to make sure that can happen,” Scaggs said.

Providing exit testing as students embark on their journeys home. Radford’s final update shows 19 new cases, with main campus exit testing at two percent positive. Owczarski said Virginia Tech doesn’t plan to separate out exit testing on the dashboard site. He shared about 3,500 tests were done. Both schools made exit testing optional.

“We’ve learned a lot and we know what we have to do,” Owczarski said. “We can’t let up. We’ve gotta stay the course, we must remain vigilant. We can’t think that this is enough because the pandemic is still not over.”

Virginia Tech will continue to test students and staff who stay for the remainder of the online fall semester.

Both schools say they’ll be excited to welcome back students again in January in a phased approach.

Radford students are expected to start filling out the Daily Symptom Tracker prior to their arrival, and students coming back from hot spots will be required to get a COVID-19 test. Virginia Tech will test all students returning to campus and ask them to self-quarantine 14 days prior to their return.

Both schools resume courses on Jan. 19 for the spring semester.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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