Wednesday, August 17, 2022

College, coronavirus and the city: Williamsburg forges pact with W&M to stay ‘Healthy Together’ as the city welcomes students back

New students followed COVID-19 safety protocols as they moved in to residence halls Aug. 12-14. (WYDaily/Jim Agnew, W&M News)
New students followed COVID-19 safety protocols as they moved in to residence halls Aug. 12-14. (WYDaily/Jim Agnew, W&M News)

The city of Williamsburg has partnered with William & Mary on a new “Healthy Together” initiative as students return to the college this week.

During the City Council meeting Thursday, Sam Jones, W&M’s senior vice president of finance and administration, presented the college’s procedures and plans for students returning to campus this month.

Jones thanked City Manager Andrew Trivette for issuing a flyer to the community landlords that encourages flexibility on leases for students. He added the college will also need a level of flexibility when it comes to certain plans as information regarding the coronavirus pandemic continues to change.

“While the health situation will evolve, we do know one thing—this fall, William & Mary will be different,” Jones said. “There’s no question about it. Our primary goal continues to be to provide the best education and support instructional activities…but now the emphasis is how do you do that in the safest manner.”

The university has separated the move-in days for freshmen, transfer and international students from the rest of the student body. W&M has also sent at-home testing requirements and kits to students which administrators believe will help build a baseline of information for the potential spread of the virus on campus.

Students are asked to quarantine for eight days before returning to school and submit a negative coronavirus test. The school has also issued kits to every student and employee that features two facemasks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and an educational pamphlet. Jones said the purpose of the kits is to symbolize not only the college’s expectation that students comply with the changes but also that they are provided the tools to do so.

Students and employees will have to complete a series of virtual modules that teaches about physical distancing, hand washing, the importance of facemasks and about intervention. For example, Jones said one module teaches students what to do if a fellow classmate isn’t complying with the new procedures.

Students and staff are also required to sign an agreement form stating they will comply with the new procedures.

Once students have returned to campus  they will be asked to submit information about their behavior and current physical state through the university’s daily health checker, which will be accessible through a mobile app.

If a student feels sick, they can report to the student health center where a rapid antigen test will be performed.

“What’s important about the health check is that we’re not monitoring people’s responses, but looking to see if someone took it,” Jones said, adding if a student goes 48 hours without responding to the health check, then the university will follow up with them.

Jones said the key to preventing a spread on campus is to change the culture. This will be done by educating students, placing reminders and through enforcement. 

Residents and family members wore masks and followed physical distancing protocols when moving into residence halls Aug. 12-14. (WYDaily/Jim Agnew, W&M News)
Residents and family members wore masks and followed physical distancing protocols when moving into residence halls Aug. 12-14. (WYDaily/Jim Agnew, W&M News)

“We are really looking for a culture change that deals with how we interact on campus while we continue to deliver education to our students,” Jones said. “All of these students have signed a healthy together commitment, so if they don’t do what they’re supposed to…then they don’t belong at William & Mary.”

If a student isn’t complying with the new health requirements, then they will be sent to the Dean of Students. The college is also working on an online reporting system where students and staff can report peers who are not complying with the new procedures, Jones said.

W&M also plans to provide a location for students who have tested positive for the virus where they can be isolated and recover. Jones said all 102 available rooms in Richmond Hall will be available for students who need to isolate because they have tested positive for the virus.

However, Jones said students who live off-campus will be asked to isolate in their own homes. 

The university is also in the process of developing an informational dashboard that provides data about regional and community testing. Jones said he was unsure if W&M will report its cases considering the numbers are so low that it might become a privacy issue.

Following Jones’ presentation, the City Council passed the Healthy Together: A Community Commitment resolution. It outlines the expectations and shared responsibilities of the city for mitigating the spread of the virus in partnership with the college.

City officials and staff have agreed to mitigate the spread by wearing a facemask, social distancing, washing hands frequently, participating in testing protocols and staying home when sick.

Residents and family members wore masks and followed physical distancing protocols when moving into residence halls Aug. 12-14. (WYDaily/Jim Agnew, W&M News)
Residents and family members wore masks and followed physical distancing protocols when moving into residence halls Aug. 12-14. (WYDaily/Jim Agnew, W&M News)

“[We’re] saying the city of Williamsburg organization is going to follow these commitments and encourage our citizens to do the same,” Trivette said.

Mayor Doug Pons commended the college for its commitment to staying healthy and said it would be important for the overall Williamsburg community to lower its cases.

“I think signing onto this commitment is important to sending the message that this is what we need to do to be healthy,” Pons said. 

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Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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