VIRGINIA — As Virginia institutions of higher education look to reopen for the new academic year, Gov. Ralph Northam says schools must prepare plans, similar to the guidance announced for PreK through 12 schools.
Higher education institutions turned to remote options after Northam’s March 30 executive order stopped in-person instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic. But as health restrictions are eased in Virginia phase two of reopening and beyond, higher education institutions can prepare to reopen campuses and offer in-person instruction, Northam said.
Before that can happen, schools must submit a comprehensive reopening plan to the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia. Schools must also meet public health conditions and follow Virginia Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Forward Virginia reopening guidelines.
“Our institutions range from large to small, heavily residential to commuter, from urban to rural and beyond,” said Northam at a Thursday news conference. “That is why each institution will take on this challenge in a way that meets their unique mission and circumstance. But at all times, their plans must be based on the best available public health data, including the Virginia Department of Health’s higher education testing guidance.”
Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, says institutions are working on plans to safely reopen campuses. These plans must account for repopulation of the campus, monitoring health conditions to identify infections, containment to prevent spread of the virus, and shutdown considerations if warranted by public health guidance or severe conditions.
“As we look to phases two, and three and beyond, and as institutions begin to shift to in person instruction and campus activities expect a new normal,” said Blake. “More courses will be taught in an online or hybrid manner, classes will be smaller, schedules will be staggered, residence life will be spread out, food service will be offered in non-traditional ways, and large-scale events such as performing arts and athletics, will be a new experience.”
Some institutions have already outlined what their return will look like in the fall. George Mason University’s interim president Anne Holton indicated a mix of in-person and virtual instruction will happen with a potential conclusion before Thanksgiving, according to Inside Nova . Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said the Blacksburg campus will have online and in-person learning but will keep the original end date of Dec. 16. According to the Daily Progress, the University of Virginia is buying personal protective equipment and “welcome back” kits.
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All of Virginia is set to be in phase two of reopening on Friday as Northern Virginia and Richmond join the rest of the commonwealth. Northam says areas must be in phase two for a minimum of two weeks; most of Virginia started phase two on June 5. He hopes to have an estimate next week on when to expect phase three so businesses can prepare.
Amid reports of coronavirus case spikes in other U.S. states, Northam says Virginia is not one of them.
“So far Virginia is not seeing a spike in our cases,” said Northam. “In fact our metrics are continuing to trend downward.”
He pointed to metrics tracked by the Virginia Department of Health. He noted that new cases have been trending since the end of May, reported deaths have decreased in the past several weeks, and percent positive rate stood at 8.9 percent this week, compared to over 20 percent in April.
He encouraged people to not let their guard down and continue to follow public health guidelines. For those attending protests for racial justice, he reiterated guidance to wear face coverings, practice social distancing and get tested for the virus.
The governor said he got the nasal swab test in Chesapeake last week and learned the result was negative.
This article originally appeared on the Kingstowne-Rose Hill Patch