Local colleges discuss COVID-19 updates with Harrisonburg City Council

Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 1:11 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Leaders from Eastern Mennonite University and James Madison University joined Harrisonburg City Council members during their Tuesday night Zoom meeting to discuss COVID-19 response updates.

EMU hoped to start classes in-person on Aug. 25, but an outbreak occurred on-campus when the university’s campus community assistants returned one week early for additional training.

Instead of beginning in-person, EMU began classes online on Aug. 25. On Sept. 3, the university transitioned to a mix of the in-person and virtual learning models.

As of Sept. 22, the EMU COVID-19 Dashboard, there are 8 cumulative positive COVID-19 cases. Seven cases were confirmed at the university and one case was self-reported.

EMU President Dr. Susan Schultz Huxman said the biggest change on campus was at dining halls.

“Right now we don’t have students that are eating inside in our expansive dining hall. We have grab and go meals with reusable materials,” Schultz Huxman said. “We have tents everywhere [for students to eat outdoors]. It looks like a festival of sorts.”

EMU plans to host Homecoming and Family Weekend events online Oct. 16 through Oct. 18.

After pivoting to online learning for four weeks, JMU plans to return to in-person learning on Oct. 5. The university is implementing a number of changes when students return to campus for the second time this semester.

“As many as 85 percent [of students] are still here, so if we have some mix of classes along the lines of what Susan [Schultz Huxman] described, that same kind of mix, we have a greater ability to monitor behavior and require testing,” JMU President Jonathan Alger said. “The students returning to the residence halls in October represent a small subset of the overall student body, so we don’t expect a significant impact on the community when those students return.”

With the help of a third-party testing company, JMU plans to test 300 non-symptomatic students per week who have not yet tested positive to get ahead of any potential coronavirus outbreaks.

As of Sept. 22, the JMU COVID-19 Dashboard reports 132 active cases and 1,313 recovered cases.

All JMU students signed a COVID-19 Stop the Spread Agreement before returning to campus, but weeks into the semester it is clear to the university that not all students followed expectations.

“We have notified 290 students of violations so far this semester,” Dr. Tim Miller, VP for Student Affairs, said. “Thus far, we have found 45 students responsible for [inappropriate] behavior and those sanctions have ranged from restorative justice process to probation.”

Dr. Miller said some cases can result in expulsion.

He said before classes began, he accompanied Harrisonburg police officers on a ride-along to monitor student behavior and is in the process of scheduling another with the Harrisonburg Fire Department.

“I believe the only way I can understand what [police are] seeing is if I see it myself,” Miller said.

Copyright 2020 WHSV. All rights reserved.

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