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Lynchburg-area colleges and universities gear up for new semester amid rising coronavirus cases

Randolph College 03

The administration building at Randolph College is shown in Lynchburg in this file photo.

As students prepare to return to colleges and universities in the Lynchburg area for the upcoming spring semester, school leaders are figuring out ways to bring them back amid surging coronavirus cases in the region.

The Virginia Department of Health reported 427 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday in Lynchburg and the surrounding counties.

Last fall, some schools in the area decided to enforce mask and vaccine mandates, while others left the choices up to its students. This winter, colleges and universities in Central Virginia are having to adapt quickly as the omicron variant is causing cases to surge nationwide.

Liberty University, which will welcome students back Jan. 10, will not enforce a vaccine or a mask mandate, similar to its policies in the fall. The university updated its COVID-19 isolation and quarantine period guidelines in accordance with the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in late December.

A spokesperson for the school told The News & Advance students would need to provide a response to a survey, which must be completed at least 72 hours prior to returning to campus. This will indicate whether the student will need to be quarantined or isolated if they have been in contact with somebody who has COVID-19.

Sweet Briar College, which resumes classes Jan. 11, will require all students and employees be vaccinated for COVID-19, including a booster shot, within two weeks of when they are eligible to receive the shot, according to a release on the school’s website.

Last semester, Sweet Briar required students and employees to be fully vaccinated before the start of the 2021-22 school year.

The school also announced at the end of December it will require a negative coronavirus test within 48 hours of returning to campus.

Randolph College has plans to test every student on campus on the first day back to class, said Brenda Edson, director of college relations.

This has been a successful strategy for the college in the past, Edson said. The school did the same thing when students returned from fall break in late 2021.

“We have done this several times after breaks and it works well,” Edson told The News & Advance.

Before students returned in the fall, the school required only students be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they have an approved medical or religious exemption.

Randolph College President Brad Bateman wrote in a statement on the school’s website last month that despite there being no current mandate for employees, the school could be required to adhere to a proposed federal vaccination mandate for employers with 100 or more employees, meaning teachers and staff could be required to be vaccinated.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments over that mandate this Friday.

The University of Lynchburg, where classes resume Jan. 24, required students to be vaccinated before returning in the fall. It now will require students to receive a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to campus this month, according to its website.

It also will keep its mask mandate in place, requiring all students and teachers to wear masks in any indoor facility unless they are in their office, dorm, or if they are eating or drinking.

The school’s COVID-19 dashboard says the school has had 78 cases of the virus since classes started in August.

UL and SBC join several other universities in the commonwealth requiring vaccinations and booster shots for students this semester.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, the College of William & Mary and Virginia State University all added the requirement in the past two weeks.

Central Virginia Community College, despite not having any students who live on campus, still is working to combat COVID-19 for its employees and students, who usually commute from home. CVCC will begin classes for the spring semester Jan. 10.

According to Chris Bryant, the college’s vice president of institutional advancement, CVCC, because it is a non-residential community college, has the added benefit of offering its classes in several different formats, such as in-person, fully online or virtual real-time courses, which allows the school to have flexibility in the case of an outbreak.

Bryant also said for in-person classes, they will be requiring masks to be worn when on campus. The school also is registering classes below the assigned classroom’s capacity to ensure enough space to accommodate students in a socially distanced fashion.

There are no current vaccine mandates for teachers or students, but the school highly encourages students and teachers be vaccinated before returning to classes, according to the school’s COVID-19 resources website.

According to the Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, as of Jan. 5, 51.7% of the adult population in the City of Lynchburg has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Only 22.8% of adults have received a booster shot.

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