This fall, as cadets return to post from their longest absence since the Civil War, Institute leaders are striving to create the safest possible environment for cadets, faculty and staff in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With that goal in mind, VMI has made a large number of changes to its regular operations – changes that will affect nearly every aspect of life on post, from meals to military training to attending class. What follows is a brief overview of key areas, but not an exhaustive listing, of all the changes that have been made.
In a departure from years past, Crozet Hall is no longer offering the self-serve/buffet-style dining that many alumni remember. Rather, employees of Parkhurst Dining, VMI’s food service partner, now serve cadets from six serving lines.
Individually wrapped disposable utensils and disposable cups are provided. Individual packages of the most common condiments are available upon request, as well as individual cartons of milk and juice. Desserts, individual fruits and salads are served or are pre-made and individually wrapped and available on the cold bar. Touchless soda fountains are available to dispense beverages; however, Parkhurst employees serve coffee.
To reduce the number of cadets in Crozet at any one time, there are three formations for breakfast roll call and supper roll call, and the lunch hour has been extended from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Cadets seat themselves with no more than six cadets per table downstairs and eight upstairs, with the tables spaced so the backs of the chairs are 6 feet apart. The upstairs tables are available at lunch only. A new option this fall is a grab-and-go lunch, available in the sub’s mess accessible through the side doors on Stono Lane.
Even the entrance and the exit from Crozet Hall are regulated: Entrance is by the two side doors on the front of the building, with the main center door to be used as an emergency exit only. Cadets exit Crozet by the side door next to the accumulator where they throw out their trash and turn in their plates.
Each ROTC branch on post has its own guidelines for how to accomplish military training, but common regulations include social distancing indoors and out, the use of personal protective equipment, and having cadets broken into platoon-size groups.
Temperature and symptom checks are also part of the plan, as are hand-washing stations.
Many of the same regulations apply to physical training conducted by the commandant’s office rather than an ROTC unit. Physical training that requires a partner has been eliminated, and as many workouts as possible are taking place outdoors. Use of the weight room in Cocke Hall – which is indoors and requires that cadets share equipment – is tightly regulated, with no more than 25 cadets at a time allowed to use the facility.
As with everything else, going to class looks much different this academic year than it did in years past.
This fall, 44% of courses are being delivered in person, 34% in a hybrid environment (a mix of in person and online), and 22% online only. Hybrid courses are necessary because there are not enough classrooms with a sufficient number of seats to allow the course to meet in person each scheduled day with appropriate social distancing.
Classroom seating is, at most, 50% of a room’s maximum capacity. This summer, Physical Plant employees built framed, movable Plexiglas barriers for the classrooms, which allow the professor the option to remove his/her mask while having mobility in the front of the room. Cadets are required to wear their masks while in academic buildings and during the entirety of every in-person class. Acrylic face shields are also available for cadet and faculty use.
New classroom use procedures call for cadets to use disinfecting cleaning supplies to wipe down their desk and chair before the start of each class. In addition, classes have assigned seating to help with contact tracing.
To help move stagnant indoor air, building HVAC systems have been recalibrated to not just recirculate air, but also to periodically “flush” the building with outside air.
This year has also brought with it a lengthening of the academic day, which now ends at 4:30 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. Breaks between classes last for 15 minutes, up from the traditional 10 minutes, to give cadets traveling from one end of post to another more time to get there – a change especially needed now that more classes are being held in Kilbourne Hall, down Letcher Avenue and across Main Street from the other academic buildings.
Some ROTC classes are now offered at 11 a.m. and noon – times previously reserved for the dean’s hour and lunch – and because of this and the need for social distancing at meals.
Study spaces, too, have changed due to the pandemic. Normally, cadets are encouraged to find quiet places outside of barracks for study. This year, study space in academic buildings during the academic day is limited, and cadets are urged to study in barracks as much as possible.
The pandemic has also changed how cadets can access academic support services, including but not limited to the Writing Center, the Mathematics Education Resource Center and the Office of Career Services. Walk-ins are no longer allowed at any of those offices. Rather, cadets must make appointments, and in some instances, support services are being offered virtually rather than in person.
Life in barracks is much more strictly regulated than in years past. Cadet rooms are treated as family units for social distancing purposes, and visitation between rooms is not permitted unless authorized. Even sleeping positions are regulated: cadets must position themselves so their heads are facing a roommate’s feet when they lie in bed.
The movement of cadets through arches and stairwells has also changed, as these areas involve passing fellow cadets in close proximity. Traditionally, rats have only been allowed to enter and exit barracks via Jackson Arch. This year, rats are allowed to use any arch that their company is allowed to use. Stairwells, meanwhile, are labeled for “up” or “down” use only, with no restrictions on which stairwells rats may use.
Shower usage is limited to a certain number of cadets at a time to minimize the number of cadets in an enclosed space at any given time.
At the beginning of each day, all cadets, in addition to on-post employees, are required to conduct an online health screening through the LiveSafe app downloaded to their cell phones. Cadets with symptoms will be directed to seek medical care through the VMI Infirmary.
If a positive COVID-19 case is reported in the Corps of Cadets, the Virginia Department of Health will be notified through the communicable disease portal on the VDH website and the VDH representative will be notified so that contact tracing can be initiated as required.
In addition to contact tracing that is happening, a communication plan is in place to alert other groups of a positive case (auxiliary services, registrar, communications and marketing, etc.). Task forces continue to meet regularly to discuss changes evolving in areas such as athletics.
Cadets who have had close contact with a positive COVID-19 case will be quarantined in barracks. While in quarantine, cadets will not be authorized to visit other cadet rooms or have other cadets visit their room. Quarantined cadets must use bathrooms designated for quarantine on their respective stoop and wear facial coverings when in transit between their room and the bathroom. Meals will be delivered from Crozet Hall to cadets in quarantine.
Cadets diagnosed with COVID-19 by the Institute physician will be isolated in a room for 10 days or until symptoms subside and they are deemed not infectious by the Institute physician. As with cadets in quarantine, cadets in isolation will have meals delivered to them. Cadets in quarantine and isolation, if medically able, will continue to attend classes virtually.
Many VMI facilities previously open to the general public are now closed. Preston Library and the VMI Museum are among the locations closed to the public. The George C. Marshall Museum is now open with limited hours, Monday through Friday 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Stonewall Jackson House, which was closed over the summer, is expected to reopen to the public in mid-September, and the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park reopened over the summer with a Monday through Friday schedule.
However, two outdoor VMI-owned venues popular with the public remain open: The track around Foster Stadium and the Chessie Nature Trail. Both are open from dawn to dusk seven days a week.
Due to the pandemic restrictions in place, it became necessary to cancel Parents Weekend activities originally scheduled for Oct. 2-4, 2020. Additionally, in order to limit the outside exposure to COVID-19, VMI is asking parents, family and friends to refrain from visiting their cadets except for those visits that are absolutely necessary. Cadet medical needs can be coordinated through the infirmary, while family matters should be worked through the chaplain’s office.
VMI continues to work closely with the Virginia Department of Health officials in the Shenandoah Valley region. As conditions permit, restrictions on visitation will be eased or lifted accordingly.
Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing