COVID-19 Update: W&L plans for winter and spring semesters

One in-person semester finished. With two more to go, W&L looks at how to make next semester safer and better.

Jin Ni

Washington and Lee University successfully completed its first in-person semester since the pandemic started.

We have succeeded so far in keeping our campus open,” said President Will Dudley in an email sent to students, staff and faculty on Nov. 6. 

“This is an achievement in itself and I thank all of you for making it possible by adapting to unfamiliar routines and striving to uphold our community expectations. Many other schools remained closed this fall, or reopened briefly only to send students home again, but your efforts have kept our infection rates at manageable levels, which is the key to our ability to continue being together.”

Over the twelve week semester, 4,707 students and employees were tested, with 138 testing positive. 

W&L’s cumulative positive rate was 2.9%, compared to a statewide positive test rate of 6.9%.

On Nov. 10, the Covid-19 Committee moved W&L’s Covid Environment Level from high yellow to mid yellow, though no restrictions changed.

The environment level has changed four times since the term started in August, based on the number of new cases and the university’s capacity to quarantine and conduct contact tracing.

The Ring-tum Phi has also created a timeline of cases throughout the semester:

  • Aug. 24: 1 positive case
  • Sep. 4: W&L students may now visit other W&L students in residential halls, townhouses, apartments, Greek houses, and off-campus housing, as long as all other requirements are met, including restrictions on gathering size, physical distancing, and face coverings. 
  • Sep. 14: Environmental level changes from mid-yellow to high yellow, in-person dining suspended, Greek informal recruitment halted, restrictions are tightened
  • Sep. 17: 11 positive cases
  • Sep. 22: 17 positive cases
  • Sep. 29: first positive test among W&L employees 
  • Oct. 7: 4 positive cases
  • Oct. 12: Environmental level changes from high yellow to mid-yellow, restrictions eased to allow for in-person dining and in-person recruitment events following COVID guidelines
  • Oct. 16: Undergraduate day off
  • Oct. 22: 8 positive cases
  • Oct. 23: Environmental level changes from mid-yellow to high yellow, no changes in restrictions
  • Oct. 27: 6 positive cases
  • Nov. 11: Environmental level changes from high yellow to mid-yellow, no changes in restrictions
  • Nov. 13: 5 positive cases

As students plan to go home this week, the school is offering pre-departure COVID testing on Nov. 16 and 17. All spots have been filled, but students are still encouraged to get tested. VMI and the Virginia Department of Health are hosting two free drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinics on VMI’s campus Nov. 16 and Nov. 19.

But as students get ready to go home, the university is already starting to look ahead to next semester.

The COVID-19 Committee is busy reflecting on the past few months and planning for students’ return to campus in January,” said a Nov. 10 email from the Covid-19 committee. 

Some of these plans, listed in an Nov. 6 email from President Dudley, include:

  • increased testing in order to identify and stop the spread of COVID more quickly
  • increased staff in the Counseling Center to meet students’ mental health needs
  • exploring options for in-person performances from the arts programs at W&L
  • opportunities for students athletes to participate in varsity, club and intramural sports
  • Additional programming from Student Affairs, Outing Club and Campus Unity Initiative
  • The addition of at least 100 work-study jobs for first-year students
  • More volunteer opportunities in the community

However, community expectations are to remain the same. Visitors will still not be allowed on campus or into buildings, and face coverings and social distancing are required. 

Formal recruitment for fraternities and sororities will also take place virtually. 

“None of us likes living with these restrictions. They are necessary to protect the health of our community, complete the school year on campus, and provide as much activity as we can. But we are all in this together,” Dudley said. “I wish each of you a restorative break and quality time with family and friends, and I look forward to seeing you back on campus in January.”