JMU prepared for the return of students

JMU News

The following communication was sent to the JMU community on Aug. 11, 2020. 

Dear JMU Family,

I sincerely hope that you, your families and friends are well during these uncertain times. I write to update you on many topics related to repopulating campus for the fall semester.

Faculty and staff have been working tirelessly to prepare for the return of JMU students beginning Aug. 21 when the first wave of freshmen arrive for move-in. And while we are prepared for the inevitable contingencies created by a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases across the world, the campus community is looking forward to the start of the fall semester on Aug. 26 in what we must accept as our new reality. Public health and safety continues to be our top priorities, and we remain resolute in our pursuit of maintaining academic progress for our student body. That is our mission, purpose and driving force.  

Finding Answers to Your Questions
An abundance of information already has been sent to you, and there is much more available on the University Health Center webpage about the precautions we are taking and the accommodations we are making. Of course, it is a fluid situation with many different scenarios. As situations change, we will continue communicating with you swiftly and transparently. The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section on the University Health Center page will be updated regularly as more questions arise and we receive more information. Please check this source first if you’re looking for answers. Also, our team is distributing vital information daily in all of the university’s social media channels, and if you’re not already, I encourage you to follow JMU on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube to get the latest updates.  

Before Students Return to Campus
Dr. Tim Miller, Vice President for Student Affairs, sent messages to students, families and university employees on July 31 containing important information about students being required to agree to the COVID-19 Agreement and to complete an online training. You can view that message here. Please take the time to read and fully understand the expectations we have laid out. We encourage each student to have candid conversations with their families about these student expectations. To make this semester safe and successful for all of us, it truly will take a collective team effort. Because the JMU ethos of caring for others and fostering a strong community is rooted deeply, we expect and are confident that our students will follow our guidance.

How the Fall Semester Will Unfold
Many questions are coming from our JMU families surrounding the JMU academic calendar, whether we will we go all virtual, what happens after the Thanksgiving holiday, and other related inquiries. Our decision-making process regarding all of these questions has been guided all along by an unwavering commitment to facts, as they are known at the time, and science—not by speculation. Changing our academic calendar based on guesses of what might occur weeks and months into the future is unwise in our judgment. As stewards of JMU and our students’ continued academic progress, we must proceed resolutely, and spare no effort at preparing for all eventualities, which we have done faithfully.

If we do have to adjust our current plans because of the pandemic’s continued advance, several factors will inform our decision-making process, including:

  • Changes in any orders from the Governor of Virginia;

  • Local hospital capacity;

  • Testing resources at the University Health Center;

  • An increase in positive COVID-19 cases within our community; and/or

  • Our on-campus and local isolation and quarantine capacity.

Why No Screenings?
Many of you also are asking why JMU elected not to require students to screen for COVID-19 prior to returning to campus. This was an intentional decision. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) strongly recommend against testing asymptomatic individuals who have no concerning contact history. Testing materials continue to be a limited resource, and lab turnaround times are significantly delayed when more tests need to be processed. JMU believes in appropriate stewardship of supplies and preserving testing capabilities for symptomatic individuals and those exposed who desperately need the test results quickly. The CDC clearly states that it “does not recommend entry testing of all returning students, faculty and staff.” We firmly believe it is a socially responsible position to honor this guidance from CDC and VDH experts.

What’s more, there is no known public health benefit to screening students before they return to campus. The test results are immediately obsolete unless our students quarantine from the time of testing until they arrive in Harrisonburg, which is impossible due to their travel back.

What If There’s an Outbreak?
Our planning teams have developed comprehensive strategies that outline many scenarios preparing us to administer COVID-19 testing, provide isolation and quarantine to students, and provide support to those awaiting results. These plans were certified by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia on July 23. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with these plans available on the University Health Center webpage, should you need these services or if a fellow student turns to you with questions. The fall semester will be all about Dukes helping Dukes to ensure we all stay well.

We Are In This Together
My deepest gratitude goes to all of you for entrusting JMU to handle this situation safely; to our dedicated faculty for delivering high-quality instruction in all its forms; to our staff in Facilities Management, Dining Services, Residence Life and the University Health Center; and to all who serve on the COVID-19 Campus Team and the Contingency Planning Task Force. I am grateful for the teamwork and thoughtfulness of everyone at JMU.

In a video we released on August 9, Dr. Miller proclaims that “at JMU, wearing masks is the new holding doors.” In a profoundly important way, this sentiment is so true right now. We’ve always relied on each other as a community to look out for our fellow Dukes. Our ability to open—and remain open—this fall and beyond relies on every one us putting others first. I truly believe that if there is any university up to such a generational challenge and capable of successfully continuing in-person operations during this pandemic, it is James Madison University.

Let’s continue Being the Change by demonstrating what can be collectively achieved when individuals care enough about their community to put its well-being ahead of their own personal interests. Thank you and Go Dukes!

With warm regards,

Jonathan R. Alger
President, James Madison University

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Published: Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, May 2, 2024

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