On Aug. 5, Virginia Tech issued an updated mask requirement for the fall 2021 semester stating that all students and faculty, regardless of vaccination status, are required in designated areas indoors.

As of Aug. 10, all faculty, students and visitors at all Virginia Tech-owned or leased facilities in communities with substantial or high community transmission must wear a mask in indoor spaces, according to a VTx article published on Aug. 5.

“These include all lobbies, foyers, atriums, hallways and elevators accessible by the general public, as well as auditoriums, arenas, theaters, museums, concert halls, or other areas used for a performance or an exhibit,” the statement read.

Within residence halls, masks are not required for those who are fully vaccinated due to the lower risk of transmission in a largely vaccinated student community. Dining facilities still require the use of masks when not eating or drinking. Currently, masks are not required in outdoor settings.

These changes are emerging as the Delta variant of COVID-19, first discovered in India, is causing a rise in new cases in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health. All areas of Virginia are seeing this growth, with 32 of 35 health districts experiencing surges.

During a virtual town hall on June 24, Assistant Professor of Medicine of the Divisions of Infectious Disease and Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine at the University of Virginia Dr. Taison Bell talked about the vaccines’ ability to protect against rising variants.

“The problem with the Delta variant is that it’s really a one-two punch,” Bell said. “It has increased transmissibility, so somewhere between 40% – 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was already about 50% more transmissible than the regular variant, and we saw that there was an ability to escape the vaccine.”

According to the Virginia Department of Health’s weekly COVID-19 modeling report, vaccines are the best defense against the Delta variant and prevent serious illness and death, and wearing masks indoors is necessary in reducing local transmission rates. Virginia Tech has already held one vaccine clinic in Blacksburg on Aug. 11 and will be holding another on Aug. 26.

Despite the tightening restrictions, many students remain warily optimistic about the coming semester. Lucy Han, a junior majoring in mathematics, says she is excited for the switch back to in-person classes and to get more involved in communities on campus without the Zoom component.

“Personally, because I will be wearing a mask no matter what and am fully vaccinated, I feel a little more comfortable (going back to campus), but since I know some people refuse to get the vaccine and try to fake vaccine cards, that makes me uncomfortable,” Han said. “I’m more afraid for other people than myself, because I know I’m going to protect myself.”

For David Cox Jr., a sophomore majoring in political science and economics, the upcoming school year will be vastly different from his first year, with classes being in person and the ability to attend sporting events.

“I am most excited about the school year being relatively normal, since last year wasn’t normal at all,” Cox said. “I’m excited to go to in-person classes, go to football games and have a more in-person experience with everyone on campus now. I’m ready to have the full Virginia Tech experience that I was promised when I applied and came to VT.”