Virginia Commonwealth University will resume in-person classes on March 4, a decision that comes amid rising COVID-19 cases on college campuses in the state.
Overall, cases have declined for the past month. The state health department reported 32 cases per 100,000 residents in Virginia this week.
But universities have experienced a worse start to the year. There have been more than 4,000 cases on Virginia college campuses since the start of 2021.
At the University of Virginia, more than 300 cases have been reported this week. At Virginia Tech, the positivity rate has increased through February. Universities have learned the first few weeks of a semester, when students come back together, can be the toughest.
But colleges largely have kept some in-person classes intact, believing the virus is spread more through parties and social interactions than ECON 101 lectures.
“Contact tracing has shown that social interaction is a leading cause of infection in our community,” VCU President Michael Rao said in the announcement.
VCU decided in January that it would begin the semester teaching all classes online. At the time, the number of cases per 100,000 had skyrocketed to 72, the highest at any point during the pandemic.
VCU has reported 391 cases this year, which includes re-entry tests conducted before the semester began. There were 68 active cases Thursday, according to the university’s dashboard.
The decision to resume in-person classes was made because of declining positivity rates, a review of available on-campus isolation space, testing capacity and the availability of area hospital space for treating patients, Rao said.
VCU will continue to teach most of its classes virtually. In the fall, faculty taught 83% of classes in a remote environment. But a completely online academic experience has a negative effect on students’ mental health, Rao said.
The university will continue to enforce policies on mask wearing and physical distancing, it said. VCU has implemented software called Entry Pass, which tracks a student’s daily health checks and asymptomatic surveillance testing. A student who hasn’t completed a health check or COVID test cannot enter the commons, libraries, gyms and dining halls.