‘Our mitigation measures are working’: Virginia Tech president discusses COVID-19 data from Blacksburg campus

Virginia News

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — As part of an update on the impact of COVID-19 on the Virginia Tech campus and the Blacksburg community, Virginia Tech’s president announced Monday that the university’s pandemic protocols are working against the spread of the virus.

According to Dr. Tim Sands, from Monday, Aug. 23 through Friday, Sept. 17, only 158 positive coronavirus tests were reported on the Blacksburg campus by the Schiffert Health Center. Meanwhile, during the same period in fall 2020 — when the virus was significantly less transmissible than the current delta variant — the health center recorded 823 cases.

Dr. Sands says that vaccines are also a big part of the difference between Virginia Tech’s fall semester data in 2020 and 2021.

In his statement — which was shared by the university on Monday, Sept. 20 — Dr. Sands says that 96 percent of the total student and staff population is vaccinated.

However, Dr. Sands also says the data indicates that unvaccinated Virginia Tech students are more than 15 times more likely to test positive for the virus than fully vaccinated students.

You can read Sands’ full update below:

To the Virginia Tech community,

The start of the fall semester has reminded us of the value of in-person learning in our instructional spaces and in our living communities. It is especially gratifying to once again see hundreds of students cross the Drillfield during class changes. The seismic event in Lane Stadium for our football season opener underscored what we have missed during the pandemic – the indelible value of shared experiences.

It’s good to be back, and to come back strong. And although the pandemic still has the potential to change our status, we have good evidence that your vigilance in observing public health policy and guidance made it possible for us to start the semester with a degree of confidence and optimism about the future.

I know that most of our community members follow our COVID dashboard, but I think it is also important to provide context, share what we have learned so far, and offer some possible scenarios going forward. I appreciate the sacrifices you have all made to allow a full-scale reopening, everything from vaccinations to testing to masking in indoor public spaces. For some in our community, including the immunocompromised and those who live with unvaccinated individuals, the threat of COVID-19 is ever-present. Our high vaccination rate is making a difference, but we know that the threat will loom until the pandemic has subsided in our communities and across the globe.

Here is what our data and the evolving science tell us about the status of COVID-19 in our Blacksburg campus community:

Our mitigation measures are working. From the first day of classes on Aug. 23 through Sept. 17, the total number of positive tests recorded by Schiffert Health Center on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus was 158. This is 19 percent of the 823 cases recorded over the same period in fall 2020, a time when the virus was much less transmissible than the current Delta variant.
Vaccines are making the difference. The vaccination rate of the total population of students and employees, some 45,000 individuals, is 96 percent. Of the 139 positive tests from students since the start of the semester, about 40 percent were among the small percentage (<5 percent) of students who were not fully vaccinated. Thus, our data indicate that unvaccinated Virginia Tech students are more than 15 times more likely to test positive than fully vaccinated students.
Our outdoor events have not been associated with an increase in COVID-19 incidence. We estimate that 17,000 Virginia Tech students and thousands of Virginia Tech employees were in attendance at our first football game on Sept. 3. As of Sept. 17, the seven-day average of daily positive cases on our campus was 4.7 and the seven-day average of positivity was 1.0 percent, compared to 8.1 positive tests/day and 2.3 percent positivity on Sept. 3. In the broader Blacksburg community, the New River Health District reports that average daily positive test numbers changed from 85 to 106 over the same period. New River Health District Director Noelle Bissell has verified that there has not been an increase in reported cases ascribable to Virginia Tech’s football home opener on Sept. 3, nor have we seen evidence of transmission at other large outdoor events.

These data and observations are encouraging, but we must remain vigilant. We look forward to the day when we can relax the remaining restrictions and ease back toward a more comfortable and “normal” experience on our campuses and in our communities. We will continue to monitor the data and adapt to the evolving guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It has taken a commitment across the Virginia Tech community to get us to this point. Thank you for making it possible for all of us to enjoy the Virginia Tech experience this semester, and for taking care of yourself and those around you.

Be Committed. Be Well.

Tim Sands,

This news comes ahead of the university’s Oct. 1 deadline for Virginia Tech employees — including full- and part-time faculty, staff, and wage at all Virginia Tech locations — to receive and report their coronavirus vaccination or file for an exemption with the university’s office for Equity and Accessibility due to a medical condition or sincerely-held religious belief.

As of Friday, school officials say that nearly 90 percent of employees have shared their vaccination information with the university.

“Employees who have a vaccination exemption are required to participate in weekly surveillance testing. Additionally, until an employee provides a record of their vaccination information and are fully vaccinated (two weeks following final dose), they will be required to participate in weekly testing,” Virginia Tech said in a statement on Friday. “No exemptions will be granted from testing. Information about the testing program and frequently asked questions are available on the Virginia Tech Ready site.”

Any Virginia Tech employee who fails to receive the vaccination, report the vaccination information, or file for a vaccination exemption by Oct. 1 will face disciplinary action up to and including termination, the university says. If any employees have questions about the vaccination requirement, filing for an exemption, testing, or the university’s mask requirement, you are asked to contact your college or department’s Human Resources representative. 

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