Whether you’re part of the fray or just one of us townies on the sidelines, here’s what to expect.
A year ago, Morgantown braced itself for the pandemic semester. Would students coming to town from across the state and region take COVID-19 restrictions seriously? Or would they party like there was no tomorrow? The result was not as good as we all hoped—but it was nowhere near as bad as we feared, either.
Freshman enrollment for this comeback semester has topped expectations, at 4,500 rather than an expected 4,300. So while we’re not entirely past the pandemic, fall 2021 looks a lot more normal than last year. Here’s how it’s all going to go.
Move-in and Welcome Week
Students are already filtering back into town. University apartment residents started moving in August 1, and residence hall move-in caps it off August 12–14.
Welcome Week activities will go on, mostly. The Monday Night Lights gathering of new students at Mountaineer Field takes place on the 16th, though possibly without the iconic everyone-bunched-into-the-shape-of-West-Virginia photo-op. “Students love the class photo,” says Dean of Students Corey Farris. “Can we do it in a safe way, where people aren’t completely crowded together? Maybe just the marching band in the shape of the state, with students spread out goal-to-goal—a hollow West Virginia. We’re still working that out.” There may be a similar gathering for sophomores, who missed that welcome last year.
A huge all-campus FallFest-style concert may be possible later on. Instead, smaller events with food and music will take place through the week.
Classes start Wednesday, August 18, with classrooms and dining halls at 100 percent capacity, and with assigned classroom seating and recorded attendance in force to aid contact tracing.
While hundreds of colleges across the nation are requiring COVID-19 vaccination for attendance this fall, thousands are not, WVU included. Part of the reason, Farris says, is that the vaccines are still under emergency use authorization and do not yet have full FDA approval.
What the university is doing is requiring students, faculty, and staff to verify their vaccination status. It is strongly recommending vaccination and providing incentives—free textbooks, season tickets for football and basketball—in hopes that that will get students to a 70 percent target for “community immunity.” The verified vaccination rate for students stood at 51 percent in late July.
For those who are not fully vaccinated, mask-wearing indoors and in close situations outdoors, random testing, contact tracing, and isolation after exposure and travel continue as before.
What if unvaccinated students fail to wear masks? It won’t be obvious who is and isn’t vaccinated, so it’s the honor system, Farris says. A student who becomes infected and has been going unmasked may be subject to sanctions by the Office of Student Conduct.
If things go south—if, say, the Delta variant spikes—the university has state COVID Czar Clay Marsh and its School of Public Health to rely on for guidance, Farris says. “The good thing is, the vaccines are protecting against the Delta variant, so we’re going to continue to press people to get vaccinated.”
The PRT and campus buses have resumed operation at 100 percent capacity, with masks required through at least September 13, a federal public transportation rule.
events we all love
Sports, lectures, music, theater—these are the college-town perks that make the traffic and parking aggravations worth it. The good news is, they’re mostly back. That includes the major touring acts booked by WVU Arts and Entertainment, starting with the Indigo Girls on September 26. It will take time for touring schedules to fill out again, but we can look forward to some big live entertainment this fall.
Homecoming weekend is October 1–3—and yes, expect a parade, Farris says. Mountaineer Week, everyone’s favorite weeklong celebration of all things WVU and West Virginia, is also back, November 1–7. The Mountaineer Week Arts and Crafts Festival, the unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season in town and much missed in 2020, will take place November 5–7. Check mountaineerweek.wvu.edu for other events.
Most missed and most anticipated, of course, is football on Mountaineer Field. Milan Puskar Stadium will welcome fans at full capacity. The season of six home games starts with non-conference meet-ups on September 11 against Long Island and September 18 against Virginia Tech, followed by matches against Big 12 opponents Texas Tech, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Texas.
The campus community and Morgantown residents and businesses have missed the students, Farris says, and so has he. “And the students I’ve been talking to, they’re excited, too,” he says. “This is part of what makes Morgantown the great city that it is—the vibrancy the students bring to campus and the community. It’ll be good to have them back.”