Dear faculty, staff, and students,

For more than a year, we have worked together to manage through a global pandemic that has significantly impacted our community. While COVID-19 is not yet fully behind us, vaccines have dramatically lowered the risk of infection and made it possible to plan for a fully in-person fall semester without mask or physical distancing requirements for vaccinated members of our community. We’re now filled with excitement about everything this will mean to our lives and this university we love. The Hokie experience will be back this fall.

This return to normalcy will be made possible by following the data and the evolving science while maintaining our firm commitment to each other in the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) and our Principles of Community. Despite lower risks today and the downward trends in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in Virginia, it is clear that the full experience we must strive to offer in the fall will only be assured with vaccine-induced population-scale immunity and low disease prevalence on our campuses and in our larger communities.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its Guidance for Institutions of Higher Education, advising that complete elimination of masking and distancing requirements for everyone would be advisable only if everyone is fully vaccinated. Our own data support this conclusion. The high population density in residence halls, off-campus housing, and classrooms — combined with the mobility of students — presents challenges not seen in other settings. Understanding that there will always be those in our community who should not be vaccinated, we must take care to limit exceptions and to ensure that those who are not vaccinated are able to participate in the Virginia Tech experience without fear for their personal health safety. This combination of CDC guidance and Virginia Tech’s own experience over the past three semesters has informed the following decisions regarding vaccinations.    

Vaccinations will be required for all students attending Virginia Tech in the fall, with exemptions for medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs. During the past two semesters, we weathered significant surges in COVID-19 cases in Blacksburg. We did this through robust testing, self-quarantine, masking, and physical distancing.  We must do everything possible to avoid repeating the challenges of the last 14 months, and to ensure that students who cannot be vaccinated are able to participate in campus life and in-person learning. It is essential that every student who can be vaccinated, is vaccinated.

Students should visit this site for more information about vaccination requirements, confirming vaccination status, and requesting an exemption. The deadline for students to report that they have received the full course of vaccine doses (one or two, depending on the vaccine) is Aug. 6, 2021.  

Virginia Tech employees are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated. The need and frequency of testing for unvaccinated employees will be determined based on the risk an individual’s position presents to the community. In an employee survey last semester, nearly 90 percent of respondents reported being vaccinated. This response and the low prevalence of infection for employees in high-contact roles throughout the most recent semester give us confidence that the risk to and from employees will be relatively low and manageable if nearly everyone is vaccinated. The deadline for reporting the completion of the full course of vaccination doses is Aug. 15. More information about confirming vaccination status and requesting exceptions can be found here.  

We know that some, regardless of vaccination status, may prefer to limit their risk further by continuing to wear masks while around others. We respect and support that personal decision.

To all Hokies, I greatly appreciate the selfless commitment to public health guidelines that has helped us manage through and ultimately emerge stronger from this pandemic. And thank you in advance for taking this next step toward a return to a fully in-person fall semester, with all the joy and benefits of the shared experience we cherish at Virginia Tech, along with new tools, methods, and expertise that we have developed throughout the pandemic. I am confident that this “next normal” will make us a better university and an even more resilient, connected, and service-minded community.

Go Hokies!

Tim Sands

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