Virginia Commonwealth University will begin the spring semester with classes taught remotely, it announced Tuesday, the result of a rising wave of coronavirus cases.
The semester will begin Jan. 25, and the university will consider resuming in-person education in mid-February. It hopes to restart face-to-face and hybrid classes on or before March 8.
Other universities across the country have taken similar measures, including Syracuse University, which is delaying its semester two weeks.
On Jan. 1, the Virginia Department of Health reported its highest ever seven-day rolling average for cases, 4,151.
“Our nation and region continue to face the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” VCU president Michael Rao said in a statement. “We are in the third and most virulent surge of the COVID-19 virus. The COVID-19 infection rate is at its highest since the pandemic began. Models suggest the number of cases in Virginia will continue to rise into February. They already are four times higher than at the beginning of the fall semester.”
The University of Richmond begins its semester Jan. 19 and has stretched out its move-in schedule for dorms so students don’t arrive at the same time. On-campus students will be tested upon arrival.
Virginia Union University has resumed virtual learning but will not teach in-person classes until March 15. Virginia State, which held no in-person classes in the fall, will begin its semester Feb. 1 and plans to invite students back to campus.
Delaying in-person education was a tool some universities employed in the fall. UVA started last semester remotely before bringing students back to campus. The College of William & Mary brought students back in phases.
Some VCU students enrolled in clinical and field placements, internships and other work-related experiences will be allowed to continue in person. But students in the School of Medicine were told last week that their in-person clinics located in the hospital will be paused for two to three months.
Students working in front-facing clinical placements and patient care were eligible to be vaccinated beginning Tuesday, the university said. At the beginning of the month, medical students and other health science students were told the university did not know when it would begin vaccinating those students, who often train in clinical settings and assist paid staff. On Saturday, the university announced it planned to begin those vaccinations by Jan. 19.
This semester, VCU will require its on-campus students to be tested regularly. Last semester, testing was optional.
Before Thanksgiving, VCU reported 462 total positive cases, a relatively low number for a school of its size. UVA, Virginia Tech and James Madison University each recorded more than 1,200 cases, but UVA and Virginia Tech tested a much larger swath of its student body.
“Students, faculty and staff proved last semester that VCU can meet these challenges better than nearly any community,” Rao said. “You have held true as a community to support and care for each other so that we can fulfill our important mission.”