CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia University on Monday pushed back the start of its fall semester by a week and is switching some courses to online instruction due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter to the campus community, university President Gordon Gee said the move is aimed at reducing the overall amount of people on campus “while preserving the on-campus experience for freshmen, graduate and professional students as much as possible.”
WVU had a fall 2019 enrollment of nearly 27,000 students in Morgantown. Gee said if there had been a full return of students for face-to-face instruction next month, it “would place both the campus and local communities at a greater risk” for an uptick in positive virus cases.
If that were to happen, it would escalate the probability that all classes would move to online only, he said.
“As much as I want everyone back on campus, I know this is the right decision,” Gee said. “If we take these precautions now, we can work toward having everyone back on campus as quickly as possible.”
Gee said the move-in dates for residence halls will now occur from Aug. 15 to 22 with the start of classes set for Aug. 26. The move-in date for university-operated apartments is Aug. 1.
Gee said some professional programs might have alternative start dates, while most upper-division undergraduate courses will transition to online or a combination of online and face-to-face instruction.
Gee said the decision does not include the Beckley and Keyser campuses, which will return as scheduled on Aug. 19. Courses that are part of an online degree program also will start on that date.
WVU students must undergo a virus test before starting classes on campus and complete a virus education course. Those who failed to do so will be fined $250 and referred to the Office of Student Conduct. Masks or face coverings must be worn on campus.
The university still plans to close the Morgantown campus on Nov. 25 and have students complete the fall semester online.
Statewide the number of reported positive cases has doubled in the past month to 6,000. The number of active cases grew to a record 1,703 on Monday.
There have been at least 106 deaths, including three reported Monday: a 60-year old woman from Wyoming County, an 84-year old woman from Mineral County and a 93-year old woman from Brooke County.
Gov. Jim Justice said at a news conference Monday that 20 people at the Princeton Health Care Center recently tested positive for the virus.
Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said that since March, the nursing home has had confirmed cases involving 12 patients and 19 staff. He said 276 people at the nursing home were tested late last week and 54 tests are pending.
In Charleston, officials on Monday announced a dozen positive virus cases involving city employees, including five in the fire department, three each in the police and refuse departments and one in parks and recreation.
West Virginia now has confirmed virus cases in all 55 counties. State health officials reported the first case in Doddridge County on Saturday and a second case Sunday.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.
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