LEXINGTON — Swinging open the motel room door, the Virginia Military Institute cadet seemed surprised to find himself face-to-face with his college’s top leader.
“Oh! Hey, how are you, sir?” he asked Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins.
Wins, wearing a mask with the U.S. Army logo, asked the cadet and his roommate for their names, majors and hometowns before inquiring whether they needed anything.
After a brief chat, VMI’s interim superintendent moved down the corridor to the next room.
“I just wanted to make sure you guys were OK,” Wins told another cadet, explaining his presence.
Last week, Wins began daily visits to check on isolated and quarantined cadets. Each day, he visits one of the four hotels where VMI houses cadets who test positive for COVID-19 or who are a contact of someone who has.
Like other colleges and universities, VMI experienced a spike in virus cases this month as students settled in for the spring semester. Unlike other colleges, VMI’s military rigor and spartan living conditions have provided additional challenges. But staff say initial issues — such as quarantined cadets reporting missed meals — have been addressed, and the number of active cases has ebbed in the past week.
“I would suspect we’re doing more for our cadets than what other colleges are doing for their students,” spokesman Bill Wyatt said.
‘All hands on deck’
When cases began to rapidly increase earlier this month, VMI’s staff had to quickly adjust to the large number of cadets who needed to be kept separate from the rest of the Corps of Cadets. What started as about 2% of total cadets in isolation or quarantine on Feb. 1 quickly grew to 26.5% on Feb. 13 and again on Feb. 17, a record high.
“That’s the thing about this pandemic — when it hits you, it really does hit you hard,” said Col. Kevin Faust, deputy commandant for support.
By Sunday, a total of 16.8% of cadets were in isolation or quarantine, a noticeable decline. Slightly less than 7% of those cadets had active cases, down from a peak of nearly 12%, according to the college’s case dashboard.
VMI’s COVID-19 plan was “designed to expand and contract,” Wyatt said. VMI had the space, but it was a matter of manpower, he said. It’s been an “all hands on deck” situation, using all staff members, he said.
In addition to the hotels, VMI uses a house on campus. Cadets whose barracks are quarantined remain in their rooms and use designated bathrooms.
Wins implemented new restrictions Feb. 4 in an effort to curb cases, which included suspending visitation within the barracks, enforcing 10 feet of separation between cadets during physical training, closing campus to visitors and other measures, Wyatt said.
Wins said VMI keeps detailed data on cases and ensures cadets have the care they need.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” he said.