Pearson Hall

Pearson Hall, front facade taken on Sept. 9, 2016.

Residence life at Virginia Tech has changed dramatically in recent weeks. As of March 31, 2020, nearly 9,000 Hokies who lived on campus since August have decided to return home, and 805 have decided to stay, according to Mark Owczarski, Virginia Tech’s assistant vice president for University Relations.

The survey data collected are self-reported answers from various on-campus students about living arrangements for the remainder of spring 2020 after the extended spring break. The answers will help the university understand the students’ plans as public officials have urged everyone to stay healthy and safe following the COVID-19 outbreak.

The survey will also help the university understand which off-campus students have decided to stay in Blacksburg, and how many have decided to return home. President Sands released a message to the Virginia Tech community on March 31 that claimed 40% of off-campus students have decided to stay on campus, most of which are international students.

More students are expected to move away from on-campus living as Virginia Tech transitioned to the “essential operations” by Sands’ order on April 3, 2020, in which on-campus housing and dining services will only be open to students whose health, safety and access to food and shelter is only available on campus.

Students who would lose health care benefits if they were not housed on campus and students who may only access online learning via the university internet service may stay on campus as well.

“I decided to stay on campus because I (felt) I could be safer, considering my dad travels a lot,” said engineering student Zach Clopton, who has now decided to leave campus for his home in Richmond. “They are kicking me out (of Lee Hall), and either I move dorms or move out, so I’m going back home.”

As of April 3, all of Virginia Tech’s resources will be focused on life safety that protects public health and crucial university infrastructure like campus technological capabilities, student services and research. These university services and buildings that support Virginia Tech administratively and operationally will remain open and protect the university as it plans its future reopening.

Face-to-face interactions will be reduced during the essential operations phase, however, and proper social distancing practices are expected to be followed, as Gov. Northam orders.

Sands indicated in his March 30 message that Vice President of Student Affairs Frank Shushok and Blacksburg Chief of Police Anthony Wilson will monitor social distancing practices and other CDC guidelines in Blacksburg.

Also beginning on April 3, any responsibilities that may be performed remotely via email or telephone will be expected to be performed off campus.

“This action was taken to minimize the number of employees required to work on site at any university location,” Sands said, indicating that Virginia Tech will honor Gov. Northam’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19. “Non-essential functions and services will be suspended. Reducing the number of people living and working on site will better enable the university to monitor and protect the employees and students who must remain on site.

“I recognize that our decision to further scale back operations will impact students, faculty, staff and their families, but it is the only reasonable alternative given the opportunity we have to save lives and reduce the burden on our health care system.”

Previously, Virginia Tech was under “reduced operations,” announced March 11, which extended spring break, implemented online coursework and closed university-wide events for the semester, including commencement.

If Virginia Tech chooses, “closure” may be initiated which closes all on-site facilities, and essential services, like housing and dining, may be further reduced.

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