West Virginia Colleges Prepare to Welcome Students Amid Pandemic
WHEELING — When COVID-19 spread across the country this spring, most schools had to close suddenly and unexpectedly.
Now, with months of planning and preparation under their belts, administrators at local colleges and universities hope students’ return to campuses this month will happen much more smoothly.
West Liberty University already began welcoming students back to residence halls last Monday. The university adopted a staggered move-in process for the fall semester, creating two separate days for students to drop off belongings in dorm rooms to limit the number of people on campus at once.
Students at Bethany College will return to campus this Thursday and Friday, using a similarly staggered and socially distanced approach.
Wheeling University also will use a similar method when its move-in starts on Aug. 17 before in-person classes resume on Aug. 24.
West Virginia Northern Community College announced that fall registration will be available in a drive-through format this year.
Prospective students can register at the Wheeling campus from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday. Its semester will begin on Aug. 24.
Northern, along with several other schools in the area, plans to offer both in-person and online courses this fall, as well as a “hybrid” option that combines both methods.
Maureen Zambito, the director of media relations at WLU, explained online classes are available to students who choose a virtual semester.
said Zambito. “It largely depends on the number of students in the class and the subject and type of class. The best thing to do is contact the instructor and ask your questions and find out if the instructor is going hybrid or remote or in-seat.”
Bethany College will also allow students to take their classes online upon request and approval by administrators.
Many local schools also announced new COVID-19 testing requirements and other safety precautions. All require students and staff wear face coverings inside buildings and wherever social distancing is not possible.
West Liberty requires all students and staff to be tested on campus at West Liberty University’s Academic, Sports and Recreation Complex from Aug. 14-17 before the semester begins. The university will provide students and staff with free face masks, and vending machines supplied with additional masks, gloves and hand sanitizers are available throughout campus.
West Liberty also plans to suspend meetings and events for student organizations and extracurricular activities through August. It intends to reconsider the safety of such gatherings in September.
Bethany also requires students to be tested before classes resume. All tests must be completed during the free COVID-19 testing provided this Friday for freshman and on Saturday, Aug. 15 for returning students.
“Failing to be tested for COVID-19 … may result in the student being asked to leave campus or quarantined and assessed a $150 non-compliance fee,” states a press release on the Bethany College website.
The college also instructs all students to self-isolate for at least five days before returning to campus. Students and staff must submit daily COVID-19 self-screenings forms each day after the semester begins. Students must also sign a “Protect the Herd” pledge, acknowledging they understand and will follow all health and safety guidelines.
Wheeling University will provide free testing as well. It will be available at the Alma Grace McDonough Center on Aug. 18 for staff and athletes, Aug. 21 for new students and Aug. 23 for returning students. Testing will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
The colleges and universities have also adjusted their academic calendars for the upcoming semester. Bethany plans to wrap up the semester before Thanksgiving, allowing students to remain at home until the spring semester begins. Both Wheeling University and Northern will halt in-person instruction after Thanksgiving break and conclude classes and exams entirely online.