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Provost's Update for Week of September 14-18

COVID-19 testing: Who are “high contact” employees and who should get tested?

Testing availability for faculty and staff will be a function and level of risk based on DOLI regulations, and consideration of position related factors such as the nature of their job or academic/research responsibilities.

“High contact” employee groups include the following:

  • Those who may consistently be less than six feet apart for longer than 15 minutes (with or without PPE),
  • Those who work in environments where administrative controls to reduce risk are not possible, or
  • Those who have a higher regular interaction with the general public.

Faculty who are considered “high contact” employees have been notified by their supervisor or department/college HR team of this status and the process for participating in surveillance testing.

For those who are not identified as a “high contact” employee, but believe they have an increased level of risk due to their role, an exception process exists to determine surveillance testing eligibility. These individuals should contact Hokie Wellness at 540-231-4600 and notify their department/unit heads.

If a faculty member feels they need to be tested due to close contact (within six feet for more than 15 minutes) with someone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of whether the person was wearing a mask or not, they should contact their primary care provider, an urgent clinic, or the Virginia Department of Health at 540-267-8240 for instructions. The faculty member should also immediately notify their department/unit head.

More information and guidance can be found in the university’s COVID-19 Testing, Tracing and Case Management and COVID-19 Surveillance plans.

Latest COVID-19 updates and data on the Virginia Tech dashboard

The New River Valley Public Health Task Force and New River Health District Director Dr. Noelle Bissell shared updates on COVID-19 in the region this week with Virginia Tech leadership. The following is a summary of the information provided:

  • It appears that Virginia Tech has started a downward trend in the epidemiological curve tracking new positives, and that the data from the Schiffert Health Center are consistent with this assessment.
  • At this time, there is little evidence to indicate a spike following the Labor Day weekend activities and there is currently no evidence of spread from students to community members.
  • Hospitals in the NRV region currently report a total of seven COVID-19 patients and six people under investigation.
  • At this time, there are no hospitalizations and no deaths related to students.

Despite the current trend, the university will continue daily collection and evaluation of testing data and the campus condition. Positivity rates should be understood and interpreted in the context of who is being tested (i.e. general population vs. high contact/probability or symptomatic populations).

New River Health District officials also shared with local media that the rise in cases stemming from the return of students to Virginia Tech and Radford University in August is consistent with forecasts developed earlier in the summer. They haven’t seen much, if any, spill-over into the permanent residents of the NRV.

Within the campus community, the Virginia Tech COVID-19 dashboard provides a variety of daily and trend data for testing conducted by the Schiffert Health Center. The dashboard is updated each weekday and pulls data from various sources to detail the status of COVID-19 on the Blacksburg campus. Data updated daily includes the following:

  • Total Tests: includes the number of results of testing done by Schiffert Health Center and contractors administering testing on behalf of Virginia Tech reported within the last 24 hours.
  • Total Positive Tests: number of test results reported over the last 24 hours that are positive.
  • Total Tests in Last 7 Days: sum of the total test numbers for the previous 7 days.
  • Total Positive Tests in Last 7 Days: sum of total positive tests.

Physical distancing, safety guidelines for classroom and lab spaces

The Office of the University Registrar, in coordination with Environmental Health and Safety, has developed specific guidelines for social distancing and health and safety in classrooms and laboratory spaces. These guidelines are designed to protect students and faculty in these special instructional and research environments, and are often different than those developed for general campus social and common spaces.

Social distancing and safety measures should be maintained in the academic classroom or lab setting as follows:

  • Six feet (nose-to-nose separation) must be maintained between all students and an instructor's teaching station. 
  • Six feet (nose-to-nose separation) must be maintained between people in teaching labs at all times. This includes all lab instructional personnel.
  • In labs where students work at opposing stations across a lab bench or next to each other, physical shielding may be installed that extends the full length of the bench or along the length between students and extends 12 inches above the height of the tallest person.
  • Physical distance of six feet or more would be maintained in all directions for areas not shielded.
  • Face masks must be worn at all times. In working with some hazardous materials, (e.g., flammables or pathogens), a face shield may be required to be worn over the mask.

Read a complete guide to classroom/lab social distancing, health and safety, and physical setup and space management. Information is also posted on Virginia Tech Ready.

From President Tim Sands: Mandatory random prevalence testing for undergraduate students

Starting Monday (September 21), Virginia Tech will institute mandatory random prevalence testing for all undergraduate students in Blacksburg. Mandatory random prevalence testing will allow monitoring of the status of COVID-19 on campus and in Blacksburg with a statistically significant sample of the entire undergraduate population.

The university will continue to perform diagnostic testing of students for those with symptoms and those who have been identified by contact-tracing. In addition, regularly testing will continue for employees, including undergraduate and graduate student employees, who fall into higher contact categories as determined by the degree of contact with others in the course of their jobs on campus. Testing programs for sites outside of Blacksburg will be tailored to the specific characteristics of those sites.

Read President Sands complete message which will run in Monday’s Virginia Tech Daily email.

Recent Resource and Document Updates

Please visit VT Ready and the Provost’s website frequently for new and updated university information. All members of the campus community should also read their VT Daily email for further important updates, notices, and resources.