James Madison University will begin having in-person classes again on Oct. 5, according to a Friday press release.
JMU will not be testing all students for COVID-19 before coming back to campus, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research that such mass testing is a misuse of resources.
Other large Virginia universities, such as Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, required students to be tested before returning to campus for the fall semester.
One of the reasons JMU announced on Sept. 1 that it would be going online was the dwindling number of beds it had available for COVID-19 isolation and quarantine of students as cases rose. JMU said it has tripled the number of such beds available since classes went online Sept. 7, and the school will continue adding more beds before Oct. 5.
The other reason JMU cited for going online was the sharp rise of cases in the student body.
All classes will move online after Thanksgiving break, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 21.
Fall break, slated for Oct 22 and 23, has been canceled. As a result, JMU moved exams up two days. Exams will be online.
However, campus will remain open after Thanksgiving break.
In-person classes will also be limited to 50 students, though some classes with more than 50 students will meet in a hybrid model, but no more than 50 students of the class will meet in-person at a time, according to the release.
Dining facilities will expand their hours, lower capacity and mask wearing will be “more actively” enforced when students are not eating or drinking, according to the release.
Over 250 cases of students not following the school’s COVID-19 rules are under review by JMU’s Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices. Infractions range from the most minor, such as not wearing a mask, to the most major, such as gathering in a group of more than 10 outside of school, according to previous interviews with JMU spokesperson Caitlyn Read.
Read could not be reached by phone Friday.
The school will be launching a mandatory surveillance testing program by contracting a third party group for 300 non-symptomatic tests of students per week to help curb the spread of COVID-19, the school also announced in the Friday release.
The school said additional changes for the return plan will also be announced between Sept. 25 and Oct. 5. Move-in dates for students will be announced before Sept. 25.
The school has launched a “Scientific and Public Health Advisory Team” made up of 19 members from JMU, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Florida, and other groups to help keep JMU leadership abreast of the latest COVID-19 recommendations.
Representatives from both JMU and Eastern Mennonite University are slated to update Harrisonburg City Council on the schools’ COVID-19 response during Council’s Tuesday meeting, according to the meeting agenda.
EMU has reported eight cumulative cases, according to data released by the school Friday. One of the eight self-reported to the school. JMU reported nearly 1,400 cumulative COVID-19 cases in its student body and nine cases in staff as of Friday — 1,140 cases are considered recovered.
JMU defines recovered as having tested positive more than 10 days prior, according to the school’s website.
Over half of the university’s cases, 800, have been self-reported to the school, while 592 students tested positive at the University Health Center.
JMU began in-person classes on Aug. 26, but less than a week later, President Jonathan Alger announced the school would begin transitioning classes online by Sept. 7.
Nearly 95% of the people who die from COVID-19 have a compounding health issue, and younger populations, such as college students, are not the most at-risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, multiple students told the Daily News-Record they were concerned they would catch the virus on campus and then inadvertently pass it to someone with a compounding health issue, such as diabetes, for whom the death rate after contracting COVID-19 is much higher.
Harrisonburg reported 143 new COVID-19 cases on Sept. 8 — the highest single day of new cases since the first city patient tested positive on March 12, according to the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health.
On Labor Day, JMU reported over 1,000 total cases among its students, faculty and staff, and on Tuesday, JMU reported 1,065 cases, with 388 recovered. All but four of the COVID-19 cases were students.
Harrisonburg passed 1,000 cumulative cases on July 17. The city recorded its second 1,000 cases in less than half the time it took to reach the first 1,000. On Friday, Harrisonburg reported 62 new cases and has reported 2,405 cumulative cases. The city surpassed 2,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases on Sept. 10.
Harrisonburg’s seven-day average new-case count has been dropping since Sept. 11, though it has remained higher than any other point during the pandemic since Sept. 1.
Though the spikes in data at first could be alarming, there is more to them than meets the eye, according to a previous interview with city spokesman Michael Parks.
“We know that if a student gets tested off-campus and self-reports to JMU through their app, there’s going to be a delay before you see those numbers show up on VDH’s website,” Parks said at the time.
City and JMU staff have said in previous interviews they were anticipating an increase in cases when the students returned in August.