Virginia Colleges Respond to Spikes in COVID-19 Cases

Mason to continue hybrid classes, despite rise in COVID-19 cases on college campuses


Laura Scudder/Fourth Estate

Similar to other Virginia colleges, Mason has implemented a COVID-19 dashboard, that is to be updated weekly. The dashboard displays the number of tests and the results of the tests that were given to students and employees that week. Mason Director of News and Content Melanie Balog stated in an email that the school tested 2,600 residential students before move-in and only 5 tests returned positive — indicative of a consistently low positivity rate as long as precautions and safety protocols continue to be obeyed. 

James Madison University announced on Sept. 1 that it is moving all classes online no later than Sept. 7 until Oct. 5 at the very earliest, due to a recent surge in the number of active COVID-19 cases. The university will remain open and continue to offer on-campus amenities, though residents have been asked to move out by Monday.

JMU is now one of the many schools across the country that have reversed their reopening plans, though it is too soon to tell whether Mason will join the ever-growing list.

President Gregory Washington also stated in an email sent out to all students, faculty members and staff last week that the school will test more frequently, despite concerns about the method of collecting specimens, the accuracy of the testing and the legitimacy of Kallaco, the company used to distribute at-home collection kits.

We recognize that a handful of Mason faculty and students have voiced their objections to this process and that this answer may not be satisfying to them,” Washington wrote. “We have heard you, and as a result we investigated your concerns promptly, and in good faith. Having received confirmation from our own faculty whose expertise is relevant to these matters that the specimens students submitted to the FDA-certified laboratory-produced scientifically valid results, we are moving forward with our processes.”

Meanwhile, surrounding colleges that are not considered “commuter schools” have released COVID-19 data that does not look nearly as promising. Virginia Commonwealth University reported 183 cases and is reporting a positivity rate of 1.2 percent, according to their dashboard, last updated Sept. 4. 

Larger universities like the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech reported 201 and 416, respectively, according to their respective COVID-19 dashboards, last updated on the same day. While these numbers are nowhere near as large as JMU’s — 528 positive cases — all schools are struggling to relocate and isolate students to slow the spread of the virus.

VCU, for example, has stated on its dashboard that it is using Honors College residence halls to isolate students who tested positive for COVID-19 and relocating impacted classes, offices and labs. However, plans to pivot back to online learning, which will force students to move out unless they receive an exemption, are being carefully considered in the event of a full isolation bed capacity. 

As of Sept. 11, the Mason COVID-19 dashboard displayed one positivity out of thirty-three tests given.