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Virginia Tech president says school's COVID-19 mitigation strategies are working
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Virginia Tech president says school's COVID-19 mitigation strategies are working

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Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in a statement Monday that the vaccination rate of the total population of students and employees, some 45,000 individuals, is at 96 percent.

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands attributed the university’s continued low transmission rate to the student body’s high vaccination rate.

A Sands statement Monday lauded the school’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by students and faculty both on and off campus.

He noted that the “mitigation measures are working,” including the requirement for students to be vaccinated barring a medical or religious exemption.

Out of roughly 37,000 students, only 134 were unenrolled from the university in late August for not meeting the school’s vaccination requirements, according to a previous Roanoke Times article.

The proof is in the numbers, according to Sands, who said in the statement that the vaccination rate of the total population of students and employees, some 45,000 individuals, is at 96 percent.

Between Aug. 23-Sept. 17, the total number of positive tests between students and faculty recorded by Schiffert Health Center on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus was at 158, according to the release.

“This is 19 percent of the 823 cases recorded over the same period in fall 2020, a time when the virus was much less transmissible than the current Delta variant,” Sands wrote.

Sands also noted that of the 139 positive tests from students since the start of the semester, about 40 percent were among the less than five percent of students who were not fully vaccinated.

“Thus, our data indicate that unvaccinated Virginia Tech students are more than 15 times more likely to test positive than fully vaccinated students,” Sands wrote.

He also stated that outdoor events at the university, including the Sept. 3 football game against the University of North Carolina, “have not been associated with an increase in COVID-19 incidence,” an assertion he backed up with more data.

“As of Sept. 17, the seven-day average of daily positive cases on our campus was 4.7 and the seven-day average of positivity was 1.0 percent, compared to 8.1 positive tests/day and 2.3 percent positivity on Sept. 3,” Sands wrote. “In the broader Blacksburg community, the New River Health District reports that average daily positive test numbers changed from 85 to 106 over the same period.”

New River Health District Director Noelle Bissell agreed with Sands at her weekly COVID-19 teleconference Monday. She said college students are not a large percentage of new cases in the NRV, and household spread of the virus is accounting for 70 percent of all new cases.

“If it [the football game] was a superspreader event, we would’ve seen a significant rise [in cases],” she said Monday afternoon.

In addition to a strict vaccination policy, the university requires masks to be worn inside campus buildings, when riding Blacksburg Transit or other mass transportation and when visiting university health facilities.

University spokesman Mark Owczarski said 81 percent of classes are being held in person, five percent are hybrid and the remainder are being held online.

Sands wrote that while the data and observations are encouraging, the campus community “must remain vigilant.”

“We look forward to the day when we can relax the remaining restrictions and ease back toward a more comfortable and ‘normal’ experience on our campuses and in our communities,” Sands wrote. “We will continue to monitor the data and adapt to the evolving guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

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