MORGANTOWN  — West Virginia University has pushed back the start of its fall semester by a week and is switching some courses to online instruction only.

The changes will not apply to the Potomac State College campus in Keyser, which will see resident students arriving in just 2 weeks.

In a Monday afternoon letter to the campus community, WVU President Gordon Gee said the move is aimed at reducing the overall amount of people on campus “while preserving the on-campus experience for freshmen, graduate and professional students as much as possible.”

WVU had a fall 2019 enrollment of nearly 27,000 students in Morgantown. Gee said if there had been a full return of students for face-to-face instruction next month, it “would place both the campus and local communities at a greater risk” for an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases.

If that were to happen, it would escalate the probability that all classes would move to online only, he said.

“As much as I want everyone back on campus, I know this is the right decision,” Gee said. “If we take these precautions now, we can work toward having everyone back on campus as quickly as possible.”

Gee said the move-in dates for residence halls will now occur from Aug. 15 to 22 with the start of classes set for Aug. 26. The move-in date for university-operated apartments is Aug. 1.

Potomac State’s move-in dates are Aug. 12-14 with classes starting Aug. 19. Courses that are part of an online degree program also will start on that date.

Gee said some professional programs might have alternative start dates, while most upper-division undergraduate courses will transition to online or a combination of online and face-to-face instruction.

WVU students must undergo a virus test before starting classes on campus and complete a virus education course. Those who failed to do so will be fined $250 and referred to the Office of Student Conduct. Masks or face coverings must be worn on campus.

The university still plans to close the Morgantown campus on Nov. 25 and have students complete the fall semester online.

Jennifer Orlikoff, president of the Potomac State College campus, said Mineral County’s low positive-testing rate for COVID-19, 2.8 percent, is a big reason the Keyser campus will open as scheduled.

“While we navigate this pandemic and stay the course as planned, be assured that we’ve been closely monitoring the local health conditions,” she wrote the PSC community Monday as a follow-up to Gee’s letter. “We will continue to make decisions based on what is best for the health and safety of both our college and Keyser communities.”

Statewide the number of reported positive cases has doubled in the past month to 6,000. The number of active cases grew to a record 1,703 on Monday. There have been at least 106 deaths, including 3 reported Monday. o

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