Anticipating that the spread of COVID-19 infection will continue to significantly diminish, that vaccination efforts will prove effective in preventing serious or deadly illness, and that restrictions for public gatherings and prevailing public health guidelines for physical distancing will be eased, Virginia Tech is preparing for a fully in-person fall 2021 semester.

“We are excited to begin preparations for a fully in-person experience this upcoming fall at Virginia Tech,” said President Tim Sands. “My hope and expectation is that the fall semester experience will be much like the pre-pandemic experience, with enhancements based on what we have learned through the course of the pandemic.

“Of course, we will base our planning on the latest public health guidance and trends informed by still emerging data and science. As we have throughout the pandemic, we will build flexibility into our plans and communicate any updates to our plans in a timely and transparent manner.”

The first visible sign of the university’s goal for a fully in-person fall experience will be seen on March 24, when students will begin to select courses through course request.

“As students begin the process for registering for fall semester classes, they will notice that most classes will be assigned a classroom location,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke. “As we move forward to the fall, we will closely monitor the public health data and guidance from medical and governmental authorities. Our current planning assumes that physical distancing requirements will be eliminated. If that is delayed, we will ask for patience and flexibility as we work through alternatives, with the goal of maximizing use of available instructional space in accordance with public health guidelines.”

In preparation for the new academic year, the university’s in-person experience goal assumes that all faculty and staff who intend to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will have been vaccinated, and that most students will have been able to receive the vaccine before the fall semester begins. To help those students who are unable to receive a vaccine at home, Virginia Tech plans to work with the New River Health District to create opportunities on or close to campus and offer the vaccine to any student who still seeks one.

Because vaccines are provided under FDA emergency use authorizations, the university cannot mandate students to receive vaccination. If the FDA fully approved vaccines, these can be mandated only if required by the commonwealth.

The university is planning to continue its robust surveillance and prevalence testing program this fall, which may include tests for all students living in university housing during move-in days. The testing will be based on current public health guidelines as the semester approaches.

The decision to require masks in all public spaces such as classrooms or university events will be determined at a later date. That decision will depend on the state of the pandemic, state requirements, and prevailing public health guidelines.

Virginia Tech is also planning to operate its housing and dining operations close to normal capacity, but intends to continue to reserve isolation and quarantine space in residence halls for students that are directed to isolate or quarantine by a medical professional.

It is anticipated that indoor dining capacity will increase in the fall, and that off-campus students will be permitted to purchase meal plans if desired. Again, specific capacity and the number of meal plans sold to off-campus students will be determined by state regulations and public health guidelines in place at the start of the school year.

In addition, Virginia Tech will continue to maintain its COVID-19 online dashboard in the fall semester to provide accurate information on the university community’s overall infection rate. That decision will be re-evaluated at the end of the semester.

“We have developed and followed sound strategies for mitigating the health risks for more than a calendar year,” said Mike Mulhare, assistant vice president for emergency management. “Our collective commitment to following these guidelines has helped to flatten the curve of cases while allowing us to continue fulfilling our institutional mission. While we anticipate wider access to vaccinations and improving conditions as the fall semester approaches, we will not hesitate to adjust our plans accordingly to lower the health risks.”

“As we prepare for the fall, it is imperative that we continue to prioritize the well being of our community by complying with all health and safety protocols,” Clarke said. “I anticipate that by adhering to this commitment we will have the opportunity to restore the in-person instructional experiences that are so meaningful to faculty and students.”

Sands said, “Few could have predicted how the global pandemic would turn all our lives upside down this past year. But Hokie Nation showed its resiliency once again and came together to figure out how we would move forward in the face of extreme challenges. Despite much difficulty and disappointment, we found our path forward, helping our students take the important steps necessary to earn a Virginia Tech degree.

“I look forward to a time when students may study abroad again, when students and faculty will work side by side to discuss and solve global issues, when campus comes alive with a multitude of activities and alumni and parents are frequent visitors, when downtown Blacksburg is bustling with students and residents, and when the ground beneath Lane Stadium shakes on football weekends,” Sands continued. “I am more hopeful and optimistic than ever that this time will come this fall and that Virginia Tech will feel like the Virginia Tech we all love and cherish.”

For more information throughout the pandemic and as we approach the fall semester, visit the Ready site.