By ZACH MCKNIGHT
Star-Tribune Staff Writer
Virginia Tech has changed their COVID policy in response to Omicron.
In a letter sent from campus president Tim Sands on Dec. 28, the university is making booster shots, tests and masks required for the spring semester.
With the recommendation from the CDC, the letter states regarding boosters, “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 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.”
The letter also requires a COVID test before returning to campus stating, “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 then 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.
The letter continues, “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. 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.”
The third requirement is to continue with masking and improving mask strategy. According to the letter, “While we had hoped to relax mask requirements for indoor public spaces, the uptick of 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.
The letter continues stating, “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 not fully vaccinated, please consider wearing masks to protect yourself indoors even when not required.”
The letter concludes asking for more patience and commitment stating, “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.”
Freshman biology major Caroline Vicks said the updates is a way of trying to keep a glimpse of normalcy.
“I figured getting the vaccine at the beginning of the year and the masks wouldn’t be the end of the mandates, mostly because we did get a glimpse of normalcy at the start of the first semester and it seemed they were consistently trying to keep it that way throughout the semester.”
Vicks said she doesn’t think daily activates will be affected but said it is hard to determine what a right decision would be.
“It’s really hard to determine what the right decision would be from an administrative standpoint. I have my opinions as a student, and I realize that there are more things to consider that what we see from a student perspective, but it is a little frustrating that we are having to choose between something many people are not completely educated on or sure about and being able to have in-person learning.
“In regards to daily activities, we are used to wearing masks in academic buildings on campus, so I don’t think that daily activities will be affected just yet.”
Vicks said the timing would have affected the start of the semester but rather called it in order to keep the second semester operating.
“With the new variant, I don’t think changing the guidelines earlier would have affected how we return this semester with new guidelines in place. I feel that changing the guidelines now is an attempt to keep the second semester operating the same way the first semester did.”