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Test refusal from employees, students could result in fines

West Virginia University students who do not take a COVID-19 test or complete an education module about the virus before returning to campus Aug. 19, could be fined as much as $250 for each violation.

In a letter to the campus community Tuesday, WVU’s Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar and executive dean of Health Sciences; Jeff Coben, WVU’s associate vice president for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Public Health, and Rob Alsop, the university’s vice president for Strategic Initiatives, outlined safeguards in place for students when they return to Morgantown, Keyser and Beckley in mid-August.

First and foremost, face coverings and masks will be required at all three campuses. The masks should cover both the nose and mouth. The spread of the virus can be controlled 80% of the time if a mask is properly worn, according to medical studies. Gov. Jim Justice made it mandatory to wear a face mask or covering where physical distancing cannot be enforced this week. 

The university has said it will provide free COVID-19 testing to all students and employees at its campuses and will provide continued testing throughout the year.

 “We are working on the logistics, but it will be in multiple, phased stages,” Coben said. “Faculty first, employees and then students.”

The test the university plans to administer is a nasal live virus, anterior swab test that takes less than five minutes to complete. 

An email will be sent to WVU accounts with a link to register for testing. Also, a registration email will be sent Monday to faculty and staff in Morgantown who will be working on campus in the fall. Morgantown employees on temporary furlough will receive an email to schedule testing when they return to work at the end of this month. 

If an employee does not take a test for the virus by Aug. 15, they could be subject to disciplinary action, including being placed on administrative leave without pay. 

Coben said he expects testing will begin toward the end of this month and will be done six days a week. The welcome-back kits, which contain both cloth and paper facemasks will then be handed out. 

“We’re doing everything we can to mitigate the risks,” he said.

Test results should be available electronically within five days and are hopeful to establish a baseline of virus outbreaks. People are asked to self-isolate until they know their test results. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who are 65 and older are at a higher risk for the virus, as well as people who have HIV, asthma, chronic lung conditions, a heart condition, kidney disease, obesity, are pregnant, immunocompromised, or caring for a vulnerable family member.

 However, the largest number of positives in Monongalia County are currently seen in the 20-30-year-old age group, said Dr. Lee B. Smith, MCHD executive director and county health officer in a release issued this week explaining recent spikes.

International travel for WVU has been limited since the pandemic first struck West Virginia in mid-March. Excluding work travel, anyone traveling outside  the state is subject to a five-day quarantine, the university said.

The coronavirus module will be available by the end of this month and needs to be completed by Aug. 15, four days before the fall semester begins. Employees will face disciplinary actions if it is not completed by Aug.19.

Additional details on health and safety protocols being put in place, as well as COVID-19 myths will be discussed in a Zoom meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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