To the Virginia Tech community,

The start of the fall semester has reminded us of the value of in-person learning in our instructional spaces and in our living communities. It is especially gratifying to once again see hundreds of students cross the Drillfield during class changes. The seismic event in Lane Stadium for our football season opener underscored what we have missed during the pandemic – the indelible value of shared experiences.

It’s good to be back, and to come back strong. And although the pandemic still has the potential to change our status, we have good evidence that your vigilance in observing public health policy and guidance made it possible for us to start the semester with a degree of confidence and optimism about the future.

I know that most of our community members follow our COVID dashboard, but I think it is also important to provide context, share what we have learned so far, and offer some possible scenarios going forward. I appreciate the sacrifices you have all made to allow a full-scale reopening, everything from vaccinations to testing to masking in indoor public spaces. For some in our community, including the immunocompromised and those who live with unvaccinated individuals, the threat of COVID-19 is ever-present. Our high vaccination rate is making a difference, but we know that the threat will loom until the pandemic has subsided in our communities and across the globe.

Here is what our data and the evolving science tell us about the status of COVID-19 in our Blacksburg campus community:

  • Our mitigation measures are working. From the first day of classes on Aug. 23 through Sept. 17, the total number of positive tests recorded by Schiffert Health Center on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus was 158. 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.
  • Vaccines are making the difference. The vaccination rate of the total population of students and employees, some 45,000 individuals, is 96 percent. Of the 139 positive tests from students since the start of the semester, about 40 percent were among the small percentage (<5 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.
  • Our outdoor events have not been associated with an increase in COVID-19 incidence. We estimate that 17,000 Virginia Tech students and thousands of Virginia Tech employees were in attendance at our first football game on Sept. 3. 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. 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 has verified that there has not been an increase in reported cases ascribable to Virginia Tech’s football home opener on Sept. 3, nor have we seen evidence of transmission at other large outdoor events.

These data and observations are encouraging, but we 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. We will continue to monitor the data and adapt to the evolving guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It has taken a commitment across the Virginia Tech community to get us to this point. Thank you for making it possible for all of us to enjoy the Virginia Tech experience this semester, and for taking care of yourself and those around you.

Be Committed. Be Well.

Tim Sands,

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