JMU touts 81 percent vaccination rate as students return, area public schools back in session

James Madison University starts classes on Wednesday and almost all of its over 21,000 students...
James Madison University starts classes on Wednesday and almost all of its over 21,000 students are back in Harrisonburg.(WHSV)
Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 7:55 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - James Madison University (JMU) starts classes on Wednesday and almost all of its over 21,000 students are back in Harrisonburg.

Last year their return brought an influx of COVID-19 cases to the area but the university hopes its vaccination rates will prevent that this year.

According to JMU’s COVID-19 dashboard, over 17,000 students were at least partially vaccinated as of Friday, August 20, which is over 81 percent of the student body. An additional 1,920 students have completed the university’s risk assumption waiver and agreed to it’s policies, while over 2,000 students remain with an unknown vaccination status.

“We are excited about the return to in-person learning and activities this fall and coming back together as a community,” said Dr. Tim Miller JMU Vice President of Student affairs. “We’re committed to starting safely to protect the health of students and the surrounding community.”

The university is taking a number of steps to limit the spread of COVID on campus, like requiring masks indoors and turning off the JMU Access Card of any student who hasn’t submitted proof of vaccination or completed a risk assumption form by noon on Tuesday, August 24.

Page and Rockingham County Public Schools welcomed students back to class on Monday, so now every school division in the Valley has officially returned to full in-person instruction.

“At the elementary school level, there’s even that additional excitement for many kids because it’s really their first time in school... A number of students who just started school and then others who never really had an in-person experience last year so there’s a lot of excitement and it was a really good day,” said Dr. Oskar Scheikl, superintendent of Rockingham County Public Schools (RCPS).

As school starts back up COVID cases are on the rise in Rockingham County with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reporting 34 new cases in the last two days, moving it back into the red category of high spread in the community. Scheikl said while this is concerning, the school division is prepared for the challenges it will bring.

“Just like last year, we expect to see cases here and there. That’s why all those mitigation strategies are important. That’s why windows on the buses are open. When students travel to school they wear their masks on the bus, that’s a federal requirement,” he said.

In addition to the state wide mask requirement for schools, Rockingham County has also taken steps to improve school ventilation systems and hopes to take additional steps to avoid COVID outbreaks throughout the year.

“We’re hoping by October to have a screening testing program with VDH in place where we can do testing for 20% of staff and students every week, of course that’s voluntary, but it helps,” said Scheikl.

Around 70% of RCPS staff have been vaccinated, according to Scheikl.

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