Your questions about VCU and COVID-19, answered

VCU "strongly encourages" students to return home to decrease the risk of COVID-19 spread. CT file photo

Georgia Geen, Executive Editor

The coronavirus pandemic has caused massive changes for people all over the world, and VCU students are no exception. We’ve answered your questions about the virus and VCU’s response below, and will be working to add more details soon.

What will be done about meal plans and other fees that are designed to apply for the whole year — will these be refunded or prorated? Will our tuition be refunded to reflect our classes being online?

There isn’t a final answer to this question yet — university spokesperson Mike Porter said in an email that VCU is still considering the matter of reimbursements. An email from the Office of the Provost sent to students regarding operations amid the pandemic noted “we appreciate your patience as we work through questions about refunds and other matters.” 

How are professors being prepared to teach classes online?

Faculty have been instructed to refer to the webpage “Keep on Teaching,” which includes information and guidance for teaching online. The page advises instructors to keep the online versions of their courses simple; “Do not expect to launch a fully online course that would typically take 18 months to develop.” 

Some of the tools mentioned for online lectures are Zoom — a video and audio conferencing app that works on computers and mobile devices — and Kaltura Capture, a screencasting tool for recording videos. All videos recorded must have captions so that they are accessible. Instructions and guides are available on how to use the tools. Some of the other resources mentioned are Google Suite apps, such as Google Docs, and Respondus Lockdown Browser, a testing browser that prevents users from navigating outside Blackboard during an examination. Another mobile-friendly option is using Google Forms for quizzes.  

What will be done for classes that are designed to be in-person, like studio and performing arts classes for art students and labs?

This will depend a lot on the class and the instructor, but regardless, these types of classes will be stripped down to their core learning objectives.

At VCUarts, spokesperson Suzanne Silitch said that it won’t necessarily be business — or education — as usual. The department is deciding what studio spaces will remain open, and instructors, like in the rest of the university, are taking this week to plan the transition. A survey is being conducted to assess faculty and student technology needs.

One example Silitch posed was the Theatre Department’s alternative to the Scene Shop, which is used for creating sets; students might instead look at film scenes online and then discuss or critique them. She said departments are also reaching out to colleagues at other schools for ideas.

“Keep on Teaching” notes that some class formats, such as labs and studio classes for art students, can’t always be fully replicated at home. It invites instructors instead to focus on the learning objective and be flexible and creative. Instructors can communicate with Rapid Transition Support for guidance on how to move these types of classes online. 

Assistant Chair of the Department of Chemistry Sally Hunnicut said in an email that in online chemistry labs, professors will give students sets of data to analyze. They’ll also use videos, images and text in place of doing actual experiments. Of course, the physical techniques of the experiments can’t be replicated.

Basically, some elements of the classes will change in most cases, and what that change looks like will depend on the instructor. 

What will the effect be on international students and students who need to stay on campus? Will students in 12-month housing be able to stay on campus?

Students who need to remain in on-campus housing, due to travel restrictions, cost of travel or other factors, must apply to do so by noon Monday. The university strongly encourages students who are at home for spring break to stay there, and those who have stayed at VCU should return home, if possible. Only students who are given written approval will be allowed to stay on campus. Residential Life and Housing said in its announcement that there will be limited dining services and “significantly limited” on-campus activities.

What safety/health precautions can be taken?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a handful of measures to avoid the virus, such as regularly cleaning and disinfecting commonly used items and surfaces such as light switches, doorknobs and desks. A study indicated that the virus can live for hours on surfaces, and up to 2-3 days on stainless steel. 

As always, washing your hands regularly — after going to the bathroom, before eating and after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose — for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water is one of the best ways to prevent getting sick. Avoid touching your face, especially your nose, mouth and eyes. 

What’s really important this week is to stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing, which is limiting interaction with other people. This will reduce transmission of the virus, hopefully to the point that our hospital system isn’t overwhelmed with cases in the coming weeks. Most young people without preexisting conditions recover from COVID-19 without complications, but the same can’t be said for older people or those with underlying health issues.

Stay away from people who are sick — and if you do become ill, stay home and self-isolate. That includes limiting contact with people and pets in your household. It’s unlikely that most people will be able to be tested for COVID-19 due to a shortage of test kits, but if you do need to seek medical attention, call your health care provider ahead of time so that they can take measures to make sure you don’t infect someone else. If you are sick, wear a facemask when you are around others or in a health care provider’s office. 

Should students move back home with all their belongings?

Classes have been moved online “for the foreseeable future,” so there’s no guarantee that in-person classes will resume this semester, but students are free to leave their belongings in their on-campus housing until the end of their contract. 

Students who want to move some or all of their belongings out of their on-campus housing must do so at certain times. For residents of Rhoads, Brandt, Johnson or the Honors College, card access to those buildings is turned off, so they must come during designated hours: Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students living in other residence halls or on-campus apartments currently have card access to their buildings, which will remain active until Monday. Card access will remain active for all students who have received approval to remain on campus. 

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