MORGANTOWN – To date, eight months or more after the vaccine became available for COVID-19, the hope was that there would be a more “normal” sense of normality.
But as the Delta variant and other mutations took hold, the virus once again disrupted plans.
West Virginia universities, colleges and K-12 schools have had to pivot with the rest of the world, with many having to reverse plans that originally called for a more open and unmasked approach to in-person education .
While the focus remains on in-person learning, most higher education institutions have reverted to mandatory masks in institutions, while requiring students to notify the school of their immunization status.
At the state’s flagship institution, West Virginia University, officials revised the masking guidelines. The school announced on August 17 that masks would be mandatory inside campuses from the next day for at least 30 days.
Regardless of immunization status, the university follows the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and “strongly” encourages “all students, faculty, staff and visitors to wear masks in all other interior areas of campus. “.
In a prepared statement, university officials said the decision is “based on a variety of factors, including growing evidence that a booster may be needed as the immunity provided by vaccines wanes over time.” Importantly, many faculty, staff and students have yet to submit a vaccine verification or negative COVID-19 test result. Many also failed to complete the required COVID-19 education module. “
The school also announced its verified vaccination rates, all of which fall below the target of 80% by September 1. The rates are as follows:
Morgantown Staff / Faculty – 67.49%
Morgantown Students – 68.43%
Keyser Staff / Teacher – 62.56%
Keyser Students – 34.38%
Beckley Staff / Faculty – 70.75%
Beckley Students – 42.60%
“We have always stated that our top priority is to provide a fully in-person, on-campus university and student experience this fall,” said Maryanne Reed, President and Vice President of Academic Affairs. “Based on the data we have, the additional temporary masking measure will provide an additional layer of protection for academia. “
The university continues to promote vaccination for all students and staff, and offers them the opportunity to receive the vaccine. The school also continues to offer COVID-19 testing.
Other universities have also changed their plans on campus, including Marshall and Fairmont State, while others, such as Pierpont Community & Technical College, originally planned to impose masks.
Marshall reverted to mandatory masks on August 11 for all classrooms and interior spaces except dorms and personal offices.
“Instructors can choose to teach either wearing a mask / face shield or standing behind the plexiglass barrier in the classroom,” according to Marshall’s guidelines.
In a letter to students, faculty and staff at Marshall, President Dr Jerome Gilbert said classes would be in person and at full capacity, while outlining the school’s improved protocols.
“Our COVID-19 plans have evolved as vaccines have become widely available and more information about the virus is learned,” Gilbert wrote. “We will continue to operate with the most recent health and safety recommendations from state and local public health experts and our medical school.”
At Fairmont State, officials made the decision to track the status of the West Virginia County Department of Health and Human Resources alert card to determine masking protocols.
Since August 18, the university has reinstated its mask mandate.
“As we have done over the past 18 months, Fairmont State University will always act very cautiously to protect the Falcon family,” said President Dr. Mirta Martin.
“We have well-known protocols in place and we monitor variations on a day-to-day basis. Our emergency management team is in constant communication with the local health department, and together we can anticipate what could happen. With direction from the governor, we will implement best practices at the university, ”said Martin.
In addition to the state’s higher education institutions, the issue of COVID-19 protocols is also faced by the state’s K-12 school system.
Earlier this month, the West Virginia Department of Education released guidelines for the semester. Superintendent Clayton Burch emphasized the importance of face-to-face learning. The guidance focuses on mitigation strategies, including guidelines on disinfection and individual hygiene measures, including frequent hand washing, as well as collaboration with local health services.
The guidelines leave major mitigation decisions, including whether a mask is required and social distancing protocols, to local school boards.
Some school systems have chosen to impose masks in their buildings for all students, staff and visitors, regardless of their immunization status, including Kanawha County.
“Masks should be used in all situations, unless there is a documented reason not to do so,” the Kanawha County guidelines say. “Shields will not protect an individual under quarantine. Masks should be worn at all times in a KCS building when in close proximity to other people, as appropriate as directed.”
In Marion County, Superintendent Dr. Donna Hage, along with Marion Health Administrator Lloyd White, decided the school system would revert to County Alert Card status, imposing masks when the county is listed as orange or red.
“We always have to remember that we have to take the staff and the politics out of it and just follow the medical advice and the science,” Hage said. “The governor and the West Virginia Department of Education have advised us to rely on our local health department in our decision-making process. We probably talk about the status of Marion County on a daily basis. …
“In this decision-making process, we just have to trust (the health department) and their decision-making expertise and their understanding of the county situation. It has to be a county decision. … We need to do what’s right for Marion County based on the science and our cases, so we’re working proactively.
Marion’s Health Department Administrator Lloyd White told WV News on Tuesday that basing the mandate on the DHHR County Alert System map is an easy way to keep everyone up to date on what’s going on. happens.
“The color chart is something that everyone is probably familiar with, and when you look at a mask warrant it should be risk based, and I think that’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” said White. “We want to make sure that any recommendations or warrants we have are certainly justified, and when we’re in orange or red, we know our cases are getting worse. At that point, it’s probably good to be more aggressive in terms of prevention work to reduce the number of cases. “
Monongalia County does not look at the scorecard to determine the mask’s status, but makes it mandatory on the first day of the school year.
“Earlier this month, the Monongalia County School Board announced that masks would be mandatory indoors for all students and staff for the start of the 2021-2022 school year,” the superintendent wrote. Dr. Eddie Campbell in a letter to students and parents.
“The mask requirement, developed in consultation with the Monongalia County Health Department, is a fluid protocol that will take into consideration new directions and recommendations from state and local health officials,” Campbell wrote. .
“To ensure the best protection against variants of COVID-19, state and federal health agencies continue to encourage anyone aged 12 and over to get vaccinated. “
Elsewhere, the decision on masks remains in limbo. In Harrison County, the health department has recommended that masks be worn in all indoor schools.
Superintendent Dora Stutler continues to heed this recommendation and other comments from staff and parents. She expects to make the decision on Monday, as teachers are due to report on Tuesday.