CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice spent a few hours Tuesday listening to the return-to-campus plans of more than two dozen colleges and universities in the Mountain State.
“There’s no question that we’ve got some real challenges in front of us,” Justice said. “We’ve got to really be on our toes. But we’re watching what’s going on with our numbers as a nation and as a state and we’re absolutely trying, with all in us, to get us back as close to normal as we can.”
State Higher Education Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker told MetroNews the virtual meeting was an opportunity for the governor to hear the specifics of the preparations that are being made.
“From his comments he’s really pleased with the work they have done,” Tucker said. “Our presidents are making the safety of students, faculty and staff at the forefront of everything we do right now.”
The plans vary by campus but they have several similarities, according to Tucker.
“Everyone is going to be required to wear a mask, In every case, social distancing protocols will be put in place and probably at all of the institutions a significant portion of their course, particularly their gen ed (general education) coursework has all gone online,” Tucker said.
The schools have plans to keep their smaller, specialized classes at 40 to 60 percent capacity with proper social distancing.
The state Bureau of Public Health, West Virginia National Guard and local health departments are working with he colleges and universities on testing protocols, Justice said.
“If we’re able to reopen in the fall, and I hope and pray we’ll be in a position to do just that, any time there are any problems, whatsoever, we’re going to continue to run to the fire,” he said. “I am pledging all the resources of our National Guard, the DHHR, and we will make sure that support is provided when you need it.”
Tucker said the schools have developed feedback loops with local county health departments for contact tracing.
“We know that people are going to test positive,” Tucker said. “We know that that is going to happen–the question is just, making sure that are plans are such that we mitigate the risk to the greatest extent possible.”
Tucker said these are some of the biggest challenges the state and higher education have ever faced.
“Unfortunately right we’re in a situation right now where there are no good choices,” Tucker said. “The number of phone calls going to the suicide hotline in West Virginia has risen in the past several months, overdose rates are going up. I’m very nervous about having a group of 18 to 29-year-olds with time on their hands and nothing to do. I think that’s a really possibility. We have to be very careful about the consequences on both sides of this and we’ve been thinking these things through and trying to do everything that we can.”
The governor’s office released the statements from a handful of presidents who were part of Tuesday’s meeting:
“West Virginia University stands ready to do all we can to support our students, faculty, staff and community as we resume classes this fall. We appreciate the Governor’s guidance and assistance as we navigate uncharted waters. Our priority as a land-grant university is to serve the people of this State. We will continue to do that in the safest and healthiest ways possible.” –E. Gordon Gee, President, West Virginia University
“I welcomed the opportunity this afternoon to meet with Governor Justice to share Marshall’s plans for making the fall semester as safe as we absolutely can for our students, faculty and staff. This will be an unusual and challenging semester, and we are prepared for it based on best public health practices and advice from our medical experts. By offering a plan that includes hybrid courses and some components of online instruction, we will be able to ensure our students have the flexibility they want and need to continue to pursue their studies.” –Jerome A. Gilbert, President, Marshall University
“Glenville State College appreciates Governor Jim Justice’s willingness to listen to and work with the West Virginia college and university presidents. The safety of students in West Virginia higher education institutions is paramount both to the Governor and to Glenville State College. Glenville State College is a small, rural college in the heart of West Virginia and we pride ourselves on the safety of our campus. We intend to continue working diligently to keep the campus community and community at large safe in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have developed an excellent plan that will allow us to bring students and employees back on campus safely while we continue delivering a quality education, and continue updating this plan as needed.” –Mark Manchin, President, Glenville State College
“Our administrative team at Appalachian Bible College has carefully responded to the guidelines from our Governor and the HEPC as we make plans for our students to return to campus. Our considerations have included local health and community concerns. We are confident in our ABC campus community, and we believe we will achieve a quality of education for our students without jeopardizing the safety and well-being of our extended community.” –Daniel Anderson, President, Appalachian Bible College
“On behalf of New River Community and Technical College, I appreciate the opportunity to share our fall plans with Governor Justice. His support of these efforts was demonstrated by his continued willingness to meet with us. Along with the Governor, New River CTC believes that safety for all is the overarching goal as we plan the fall semester. New River CTC adjusted operations to ensure that our faculty and staff have access to the resources they need to safely serve our students because we want our students to have a rich learning environment where their educational goals can be achieved.” –Bonny Copenhaver, President, New River Community and Technical College
“I have watched, with great interest, the Governor’s COVID-19 press conferences, and I found them to be informative, educational, and very helpful in our efforts to reopen our schools. As a Vietnam veteran, I also appreciate the National Guard’s work to do really good things for our state during the pandemic. Blue Ridge Community and Technical College’s protocols for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic are rooted in safety for our campus community. BRCTC’s plans are aligned and consistent with local orders and ordinances of Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties, as well as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, OSHA, and West Virginia DHHR. As knowledge and understanding of the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, BRCTC’s practices and plans are updated.” –Peter Checkovich, President, Blue Ridge Community and Technical College