Virginia Tech increasing COVID-19 testing due to concerns about virus variants

Coronavirus

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Virginia Tech is calling for an increase in coronavirus testing and in vigilance for following virus guidance because of concerns about the possible presence of COVID-19 variants in the region.

While the positivity rate at Virginia Tech has been lower during the spring semester than it was during the first few weeks of the fall semester, President Tim Sands says the positivity is currently increasing instead of declining like it did at this point in the fall.

“A complicating factor is the evolution of the virus into new variants, such as the B.1.1.7, or U.K., variant, which we should assume is present in our community. Recent studies indicate the U.K. variant is more infectious and causes people to become even sicker than before,” Sands said. “We are seeing evidence among our student population that the prevalence of moderate symptoms is increasing.”

In addition, Sands says some members of the community have not followed public health guidelines as carefully as they should.

Between Feb. 9 and Feb. 15, Virginia Tech’s COVID-19 dashboard says the Schiffert Health Center conducted 2,275 tests. Of those tests, 169 student tests and one employee test came back positive.

Therefore, in light of the current data and the uncertainty over the spread of more potent strains, the university is taking the following actions to bring the virus under control and prevent the need for stricter protocols:

  1. Based on the university’s tracking of recent COVID-19 cases, indoor gatherings of unmasked individuals who are not all in the same pod pose a significant risk of spreading infection.
    Virginia Tech reminds students that the university and the Town of Blacksburg will continue to abide by Gov. Ralph Northam’s midnight curfew and limit gatherings to a maximum of 10 people, but those gatherings should only be with people in your POD or your family, officials advise.
    Curfew and gathering violations can be reported to VT student conduct.
  2. Effective immediately, Virginia Tech will double prevalence testing — increasing both the frequency and the number of tests for students — in order to allow the university to assess the community’s health more aggressively and help identify active infections within specific populations.
  3. All members of the Virginia Tech community are asked to take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, especially the new CDC guidelines for wearing multilayer and better-fitting masks. Students and staff are asked urged to avoid all unnecessary trips to public indoor venues or unmasked indoor gatherings with anyone outside of your pod.

You can read the full statement released by Sands on Tuesday, Feb. 16 below:

To the Virginia Tech community,

We’ve been back on campus for nearly a month, and it has been so uplifting to see all our faculty, students, and staff make the Virginia Tech experience possible under such difficult circumstances. I want to thank everyone who is doing their part to help us see this semester through in a healthy, positive, and enriching way.

As expected, the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to be a challenge for us all. So far this semester, our positivity rate at Virginia Tech has been lower than it was during the early weeks of the fall semester. By this point in the fall, positivity was declining. It is now increasing. A complicating factor is the evolution of the virus into new variants, such as the B.1.1.7, or U.K., variant, which we should assume is present in our community. Recent studies indicate the U.K. variant is more infectious and causes people to become even sicker than before. We are seeing evidence among our student population that the prevalence of moderate symptoms is increasing.

Finally, to be candid, I’ve also been disheartened to hear about members of our community who haven’t adhered to public health guidance with the vigilance that’s so very much needed. The presumptions that “I can’t be reinfected if I’ve already had COVID-19” or “I’m young and healthy so my symptoms will be mild” were never universally true, and, if anything, they are even more in doubt now. Add these concerns to the fact that the long-term effects of even a mild infection have not been established, and we have no reason for complacency.

Given the data we’re currently seeing and the uncertainty over the spread of more potent variants, it is important to take the following actions now to bring the virus under better control and prevent the need to impose more stringent measures:

1. Based on our tracking of recent COVID-19 cases, indoor gatherings of individuals who are unmasked and not all in the same pod pose a significant risk of spreading infection. I cannot overstate the importance of avoiding these situations. As a reminder, along with the Town of Blacksburg, we will continue to follow Governor Northam’s midnight curfew and limit gatherings to no more than 10 people. Of course, any gathering with those that are not in your POD or family are not advised. As with all violations, these can be reported to VT student conduct.

2. Beginning immediately, we will double our prevalence  testing, increasing the frequency and number of tests for students. This will allow us to be more aggressive in assessing the health of our community and will help identify active infections within specific populations. I know that testing can be an inconvenience, but it makes such a big difference, and I appreciate your cooperation.

3. I’m asking all members of the Virginia Tech community to recommit themselves to taking all necessary precautions to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. It is especially important to follow the new CDC guidelines for wearing multilayer and better-fitting masks and to avoid all unnecessary trips to public indoor venues, as well as unmasked indoor gatherings with anyone who is not in your pod.

The Corps of Cadets has committed to leading the way with stringent protocols to avoid large gatherings and high-risk scenarios. The corps will also serve as the first cohort of students to receive increased mandatory testing. I appreciate the corps’ commitment to bringing COVID-19 under control.

I know these measures come at a time when we all are weary of being told to stay vigilant. But we cannot let our guard down. If we all commit, and we continue to follow guidelines with a renewed sense of purpose and vigilance, our behaviors — paired with the daily celebration for every vaccine shot administered — will bring a swifter end to this pandemic.

Be committed. Be well.

President Tim Sands, Virginia Tech

Members of the Hokie community who may need assistance or counseling amid the struggles of the pandemic may contact the following campus resources:

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