Thank You and Frequently Asked Questions – Faculty, Staff and Students

To: W&L Faculty, Staff and Students
From: COVID-19 Committee
Date: Wednesday, September 29

Thank you all for your collective efforts in response to the recent spike in cases on our campus. The number of active cases has declined in recent days, and we are cautiously optimistic that if we all continue to mask in public indoor spaces, distance where possible, limit close contacts, and get tested when identified as a close contact or experiencing symptoms, our numbers will continue to move in the right direction.

As we prepare to welcome visitors to campus for what looks to be a beautiful Parents and Family Weekend, we encourage meeting and socializing outdoors as much as possible. Those in attendance will be reminded that they are expected to wear masks in all public indoor spaces while on campus and in food lines, both indoors and outdoors, and are being strongly encouraged to wear masks at outdoor events during the weekend's festivities.

Over the past several weeks we have received a number of questions about COVID safety measures and protocols. Because several common themes have emerged, we thought it would be useful to share those questions and answers with the campus community. Below please find answers to some commonly asked questions. Additional information is also available for reference on the COVID-19 Resources website.

What is the COVID-19 Committee's role this year and what drives its recommendations?

The COVID-19 Committee is tasked with monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, as well as emerging public health guidance; identifying and managing issues that emerge; advising and providing guidance and recommendations to university leadership on environment level, safety and mitigation measures; and responding to active cases on campus. The safety and wellbeing of our campus community is always at the forefront of our work. In addition, we attempt to identify ways to mitigate the impact of COVID - and slow the spread of the virus - on our campus while maintaining the vibrant, in-person campus experience that is the hallmark of a W&L education.

Why are COVID-19 mitigation measures less restrictive than last year?

Mitigation measures are different this year than last for two primary reasons:

  • The incredible response to the university's vaccination requirement - 98% of our students and 95% of our employees are fully vaccinated.
  • CDC guidance for vaccinated individuals is very different than last year's guidance. For example, fully vaccinated individuals who are close contacts of someone with COVID-19 are not required to quarantine.

Our high level of community vaccination has allowed us to operate in a more typical way, such as teaching in classrooms at full capacity, meeting with one another in person, and welcoming our alumni, families, and other visitors back to campus. That said, the surge of the Delta variant both nationally and in our local area has resulted in more COVID cases on our campus than we anticipated, particularly among fully vaccinated people. We have reacted to its spread based on CDC guidance and, when it was necessary to go beyond public health guidance, on our own operational needs. While we did not plan, for example, to offer screening testing for fully vaccinated, asymptomatic students, faculty, and staff because of CDC guidance, we have made screening testing available three days a week to provide an option for those wanting to get tested, and to encourage testing for asymptomatic close contacts of positive cases. And while indoor masking in public spaces was implemented early in the term to help slow the spread of virus on campus, other measures that were in place last year, such as gathering size limits and limiting visitors to campus, have not been necessary so far this year, likely because of our high vaccination rate.

Do you expect COVID-19 case numbers to increase on campus in the near term? If so, what kinds of additional measures do you anticipate making?

We evaluate the COVID-19 landscape and environment level every week and make our recommendations to university leadership accordingly. You can find the measures we consider on the Environment Level webpage. We can't predict how or when the virus will spread on campus, but our approach is to have a flexible set of mitigation measures that we can put in place to help us slow the spread and respond to outbreaks. Because we are currently seeing cases in both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, we continue to stress the importance of masking indoors, distancing where possible, limiting close contacts, and staying home from class/work and getting tested if you have any possible symptoms of COVID-19, no matter how mild.

What should I do if I feel ill or have symptoms?

Anyone experiencing any possible symptoms of COVID, no matter how mild, should stay home. Students should call the Student Health Center (540-458-8401) to schedule a test. Employees should report their symptoms through the Attestation website and seek a COVID test from a local health care provider. Faculty and staff are asked to be as flexible as possible with students you supervise or have in your class and encourage them to stay home if they're experiencing symptoms.

What do I do if I am a close contact of a someone who has tested positive for COVID?

Close contact exposure is defined as being within six feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes or more cumulatively in a 24-hour period, regardless of whether masks were worn. If you are identified through contact tracing as a close contact, a member of the COVID Care Team will reach out to you. If you are not fully vaccinated, you will need to quarantine. Unvaccinated students who may be a close contact should email the COVID Care Team, and unvaccinated employees should email Summer Sullivan in Human Resources, for further guidance.

If you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to quarantine but do need to take the following precautions for 14 days following last possible exposure:

  • Wear a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor settings, especially when you are around medically vulnerable or unvaccinated individuals.
  • Maintain at least a six-foot distance from others whenever possible.
  • Limit new close contactsas much as possible.
  • Monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, take your temperature at least once a day for the full 14 days.

Students experiencing symptoms should stay home and call the Student Health Center (540-458-8401) to schedule a test. Employees experiencing symptoms should stay home, report their symptoms through the Attestation website, and seek a COVID test from a local health care provider.

If you have no symptoms you are encouraged, but not required, to get a COVID test three to five days after your last exposure. You may choose to get a PCR test at the on-campus testing center in Evans Hall during that time period; testing at the on-campus testing center is available Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday of each week and should be self-scheduled through the Aura application. Instructions for self-scheduling through Aura can be found on the ITS website.

If you remain symptom-free and have one negative PCR or two negative antigen tests within the three-to-five-day window of time, you can stop the additional precautions before the 14 days are up and, unless you develop symptoms, you are still permitted to go to class or to work.

What are the current guidelines for isolation for those who test positive?

Based on CDC and VDH public health guidance, any student with a positive COVID test is expected to isolate for 10 days from symptom onset or positive test date if they have no symptoms. They must not share household spaces with other individuals during the time they are considered infectious, so that usually means moving into campus I/Q housing or going home to isolate. Any employee diagnosed with COVID-19 should report their diagnosis through the Attestation website and directly to Mary Main in Human Resources within 24 hours of diagnosis.

Why are the local hospitals and SHC strained and what does that mean for me?

Our local and regional hospitals are at or above capacity due to the volume of both COVID and non-COVID hospitalizations and emergency room visits, paired with critical staffing shortages. This is the case for our own Student Health Center (SHC), Carilion Rockbridge Community Hospital, and hospitals throughout southwest Virginia. The university is actively working to increase staffing at the SHC, but current conditions at the SHC and other Lexington-area healthcare providers are making it challenging to manage the increased demand for services. As members of our campus and local communities, we are asking our students, faculty, and staff to help reduce the strain on our healthcare system by doing what you can to stay well. Taking care of your overall health is always important but is especially so at this time.

Can we get additional spaces set up outdoors for eating and meeting?

The university has set up tents with tables and chairs around campus - two on the Law School lawn and two at Washington Street Green - to further encourage eating and gathering outdoors. These will remain in place as long as weather permits.