BUCKHANNON – More than 1,000 students headed to class at West Virginia Wesleyan College Monday as the Fall 2021 semester got underway, and college officials said they have worked hard on mitigation strategies to tamp down the potential spread of COVID-19 and its variants.
John Bohman, director of safety and security for the college, said the main goal is to ensure students, faculty, staff and Buckhannon-Upshur community members stay as safe as possible.
Bohman noted Wesleyan issued a slightly altered Arrival on Campus plan Thursday, Aug. 19 that updated mitigation practices, but contended that overall, plans have not changed much.
Bohman said the college’s mask policy is probably the item that has been most notably altered, with both unvaccinated and vaccinated students, staff and faculty being required to wear masks indoors when Upshur County is red or orange on the W.Va. DHHR’s County Alert System map. (As of Monday, Aug. 23, Upshur County was back in the red.)
In addition, the plan to charge unvaccinated students a $750 fee has been nixed in favor of requiring 10 percent of unvaccinated students to pay $5 to undergo a COVID-19 test on a weekly basis. In addition, student-athletes who have not submitted proof of vaccination will be required to take antigen test “24 hours prior to each competition during their athletic season, following all NCAA and Mountain East Conference guidelines,” according to the Arrival on Campus plan.
“From last year to this year, we are now using the West Virginia COVID-19 County Alert System as a metric,” Bohman shared. “Basically, when Upshur County is in the orange or red, we will require that everybody wear a mask indoors [regardless of whether they are vaccinated]. If Upshur County is in the green, gold or yellow, we will allow vaccinated individuals, as recommended by the CDC, to not wear a mask indoors, but unvaccinated individuals would need to wear a mask indoors as per the July 29, 2021, CDC guidance.”
In the release, WVWC’s Marketing and Communications Office said approximately 90 percent of faculty and staff had received a COVID-19 vaccination. And although college officials do not have an exact number or percentage, they estimated that more than 80 percent of incoming students have received their COVID-19 vaccines.
“There are early indications that it could – I am not saying that it is – be closer to 90 percent or above,” Bohman said. “We are not sure until our students move in because some tend to bring their documentation with them when they register. We asked them to upload certain information and their response rate was good. We are down to a handful of individuals that need to respond. We will have the total vaccination rates within the next 10 days.”
Bohman explained that WVWC had been searching for a solution to cover the cost of testing unvaccinated students, staff and faculty. They had initially announced a $750 payment requirement for unvaccinated students – but that changed, as was explained in the updated Arrival on Campus released Aug. 19.
“In our first original communication, we indicated we would not bill the $750 fee for unvaccinated students until Sept. 7, 2021,” Bohman explained. “We were always working to that end. In an effort to reduce the cost of each test, we found a more affordable solution that meets our testing needs and was acceptable to the standards set by the state and the CDC. That was a great find for us, and we were able to pass that along to our students.”
Bohman stressed the $750 fee was never meant to be a penalty or a money-making endeavor – but was merely intended to help the college recoup the cost of testing students who opted not be vaccinated for whatever reason.
“That $750 was broken down to what it was going to cost us to test,” Bowman said. “We found a much more affordable solution where we are able to do it for $5 per test. We view that faculty, staff and students need to be treated the same, so each will pay $5 during the weekly testing if they are unvaccinated and taking the test.”
According to the updated plan, the way the $5 fee will work is, the college will conduct “surveillance testing” of students who have not submitted proof of vaccination by testing 10 percent of that population each week. As the Arrival on Campus plan states, “Cost of the testing will also be $5 each time you are selected for testing, in place of the $750 fee.”
WVWC’s Marketing and Communications Manager Amanda Hayes also emphasized that Wesleyan’s student-athletes who have not sent in proof of vaccination will be tested before every competition day, while non-student athletes who haven’t submitted vaccination proof, will be subject to the surveillance testing.
Bohman said that WVWC will continue to share COVID-19 related information as needed – just as they did during the Spring 2021 semester.
“If we run into a situation where there is an outbreak, we will be very transparent and alert the Wesleyan community and the Upshur County community as well,” he said. “We work with the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department. I speak with (nurse director) Sue McKisic regularly, and we have a great working relationship with our health department.”
Bohman said WVWC is committed to maintaining the safety of faculty, staff and students.
“We certainly want to work with everybody and be respectful of everybody that is coming back to Buckhannon – but also be respectful to Upshur County as well,” he said. “We do not want to drain the resources of the county, and we want to be good partners and work with the different agencies to keep everyone safe.”
Other mitigation efforts WVWC is utilizing to slow the spread of COVID-19 include:
- requiring and enforcing wearing of masks by those who are unvaccinated;
- implementing and enforcing social distancing for the unvaccinated;
- seating charts in the classrooms;
- providing alcohol spray in each classroom, office space and other areas of campus for after-usage sanitation;
- disinfecting/fogging of classrooms, gymnasiums and other indoor venues following use;
- maintaining had sanitizer stations campus wide; and
- utilizing bottle filler stations instead of drinking fountains.
“Right outside of the dining hall, we fog those areas on a daily basis,” Bohman said of the mitigation measures. “Some areas will be fogged on a daily basis and others as needed. Our Physical Plant does a very nice job with cleaning, and they do a little bit more with COVID including going back through our restrooms a little more often.”
Wesleyan announced that they will welcome more than 340 new students to the Buckhannon campus, with the average GPA of the new class being 3.58. Seventy-eight new students carry honors distinctions. Of the new students, 49 percent are from West Virginia, and the out-of-state students hail from 27 states including Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The release said students from other countries will be making the trek to West Virginia from their homes in Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Malaysia, Puerto Rico, Spain, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
The release also shares that the Fall 2021 new student class is projected to be approximately 20 percent larger than the previous academic year. You can read the updated Arrival on Campus plan in full here.