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COVID-19 cluster spurs quick conversion of VCU Honors College into isolation unit

Floors of VCU’s Honors College building will be used to house residential students who test positive for COVID-19, after 44 VCU Athletics affiliates tested positive for the virus, according to a university spokesperson.

Capital News Service

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By Hannah Eason and Andrew Ringle

Virginia Commonwealth University will convert three floors of a building that houses classrooms and workspaces into an isolation space for students who test positive for COVID-19, according to a university spokesperson. The number of positive cases on campus has more than tripled since the university began reporting its cases online Aug. 20.

The plan calls for converting the seventh floor of the Honors College building immediately, followed by the fifth and sixth floors as needed — creating up to 160 additional spaces for students who need to stay in isolation.

As of Thursday, there are 110 reported active cases at the university — 98 students and 12 employees. According to the dashboard, a cluster of 44 positive cases from the VCU Athletics department “necessitated the need for additional isolation space.”

“Students could move in as soon as this week, but the exact day will depend on need,” Jennifer Malat, dean of College of Humanities and Sciences, said in an email to employees that was shared with The Commonwealth Times, the independent, student-run newspaper at VCU.

Isolating students will use the rear entrance to the Honors College and will access their rooms by the rear elevator, according to the email, “and will not need to leave their rooms until they are cleared for release.”

“I recognize the pandemic has been an especially challenging time for those who work in the Honors College building,” Malat stated in the email. “I appreciate your patience as we help to create a space that will help prevent students who have tested positive for coronavirus from interacting with the general population.”

The residence hall Gladding Residence Center III, which has a capacity of 54 isolation units, was at risk of running out of space, a VCU spokesperson said.

“The cluster of 44 student cases rapidly reduced VCU’s capacity to offer isolation housing in GRC III,” university spokesperson Michael Porter said in an email. “A decision to use the upper floors of the Honors College was made Tuesday evening after VCU Health confirmed the space was not currently needed for treating non-COVID-19 patients.”

Porter said deans and chairs began notifying their departments about the Honors College conversion Wednesday morning after the decision was made. All classes in the Honors College are being relocated, Porter said, and VCU is looking at relocating offices and labs in the building.

“The change will have no impact on workspace or access to offices or labs,” Porter said in an email. “Staff and faculty will not be interacting with COVID-19 positive students in the workplace.”

Porter said faculty in the physics department, housed in the Honors College, are discussing the impacts of the conversion but have not decided yet to move classes online.

In the Honors College building, students will receive food and medication via delivery, and employees will monitor the building entrance. The building’s HVAC system is under maintenance so that there are no pathways for air to enter into the lower floors from the upper floors, Porter said.

The email from Malat was shared by an employee who works in the Honors College building and wished to remain anonymous. On Wednesday, they said they saw maintenance crews preparing rooms for conversion. The employee said they later received the announcement indirectly and felt it was “as an afterthought.”

“We are, in my unit, terrified,” the employee said. “They prepared this quietly and secretly, and waited until the last possible minute to inform anyone.”

 Porter did not respond directly when asked why employees were not informed going into the semester that the pivot to use the space could happen.

VCU and VCU Health System prepared the Honors College in March to be used as a potential overflow hospital for non-COVID-19 patients. Student belongings were removed from the building without their knowledge and moved to a nearby storage facility.

The employee said that in the university’s decision to plan another conversion without consulting employees, “they decided our health and safety doesn’t matter.”

“We are underpaid, understaffed, overworked, and now they take it further, and in the process, try to keep secret the need for MORE students to” isolate, the employee said in a direct message. “They are risking the health of staff, of students, of faculty.”

Editor’s note: This article was written by staff members of The Commonwealth Times, the independent student newspaper at VCU which originally published the article.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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U of R’s Sharp Viewpoint Series features pairs of thought leaders from across the political aisle

Conversations about bipartisanship, the 2020 election, and viewpoint diversity will distinguish this year’s Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series. This year’s series focuses on engaging in dialogue to foster change.

RVAHub Staff

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Conversations about bipartisanship, the 2020 election, and viewpoint diversity will distinguish this year’s Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series. This year’s series focuses on engaging in dialogue to foster change. University of Richmond President Ronald A. Crutcher will host a series of conversations about pressing issues of our time with pairs of thought leaders from across the political aisle.

“The Sharp Speaker series provides us a unique opportunity to foster dynamic and critical conversations,” Crutcher said. “Each program this year will include two speakers from opposite sides of the political spectrum.  I’m particularly looking forward to the energetic and thought-provoking conversation that will occur with both speakers together.”

Due to COVID-19, events will be held via live stream.

This year’s series includes:

Sept. 21, 7 p.m.

Bipartisanship: What’s Changed and What’s in Store

Denis McDonough, former White House Chief of Staff under President Barack Obama

Mike Sommers, former Chief of Staff to Speaker of the House John Boehner

The two will discuss American political bipartisanship in the Trump era, the state of the 2020 U.S. presidential race, and possibilities for compromise amidst extreme political polarization.

Nov. 11, 7 p.m.

The 2020 Elections: What Happened?

Mary Kate Cary, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush

Mary Anne Marsh, Democratic political analyst, and consultant

They will discuss the 2020 election results and their implications for critical national issues, including the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and response, economic recovery, and a new era of American civil rights activism. 

March 26, 2021, 7 p.m.

Friendship and Dialogue Across Difference

Cornel West, philosopher, political activist, and professor at Harvard University

Robert P. George, American legal scholar, and professor at Princeton University

West and George are friends and former colleagues who will discuss the importance of fostering dialogue and cultivating friendships across ideological and political divides.

These live-streamed events are free and open to the public, and registration is required. To register for the Sept. 21 event, visit www.crowdcast.io/e/university-of-richmond/register.

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University of Richmond listed as #22 top national liberal art college, highest ranking ever

This ranking is UR’s highest from U.S. News to date. UR ranked #23 in the 2018 and 2020 guides. The overall ranking for UR was #32 in the 2016 guide five years ago.  

RVAHub Staff

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U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges 2021 guide ranks the University of Richmond #22 overall among national liberal arts colleges. This ranking is UR’s highest from U.S. News to date. UR ranked #23 in the 2018 and 2020 guides. The overall ranking for UR was #32 in the 2016 guide five years ago.

The University of Richmond also ranked #25 for “Best Value” among national liberal arts colleges. Richmond is among only 1% of institutions in the U.S. with both a “need-blind” admission policy and a guarantee to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need for traditional undergraduate applicants. Thirty-nine percent of undergrads are eligible for need-based aid, and all first-year applicants are considered for merit-based aid, including full-tuition scholarships and a variety of interest-based programs.

Richmond also was named to the “Most Innovative Schools” list and ranked #18 among national liberal arts colleges. This category highlights colleges that are making the most innovative improvements in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology, or facilities. The ranking is the result of a peer assessment survey completed by college presidents, provosts, and admissions deans.

The University of Richmond was highlighted in the “Study Abroad” category of the “Academic Programs to Look For” ranking, coming in at #24. This accolade highlights schools that involve substantial academic work abroad for credit and value considerable interaction with the local culture. UR’s student population represents more than 70 countries, and about 65% of students graduate with an international experience.

Richmond also ranked in the Top 100 for undergraduate business programs at #97.

Additional information can be found here.

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HCPS will provide students with free meals through school curbside service and neighborhood bus drop-offs

RVAHub Staff

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Even when school began this week using a predominantly virtual format, families depend on the thousands of meals prepared each day by Henrico County Public Schools’ School Nutrition Services Department. The department has answered the challenge of a highly unusual school year with plans to get free breakfasts and lunches to students using two distribution systems. Nutrition staff members will offer free curbside pick-up service at all HCPS schools, and team with HCPS Pupil Transportation Services to distribute free meals directly to 66 stops in Henrico County neighborhoods, using school buses. A list of meal distribution drop-off sites follows this message.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that, in accordance with the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the universal meals distribution in effect since the spread of the pandemic in March would be continued through Dec. 31.

Among the features of the HCPS plan:

  • Free meals are available to any child 18 or younger at all HCPS school locations and identified bus stops.
  • Parents and guardians can pick up meals at any HCPS location regardless of where their student is enrolled.
  • Parents and guardians don’t need to provide student names or I.D. numbers to receive meals.
  • Families are strongly encouraged to apply for free and reduced-priced meals benefits, in order to participate after the current meals program expires Jan. 1, 2021.

School curbside service

Distribution of free meals will take place at all elementary, middle and high schools.

  • Monday through Thursday (Friday meals are distributed on Thursdays.)
  • 7-9 a.m.: Hot breakfasts (when available) and cold lunches.
  • 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Hot lunches as well as cold breakfasts for the next day.

Neighborhood distribution using school buses

HCPS buses will distribute free school meals to neighborhoods two days a week. Modifications are possible, based on demand and other logistical factors. Participants should follow social distancing and mask guidelines at bus stops.

  • Mondays and Wednesdays. On Mondays, buses will distribute meals for Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesdays, breakfasts and lunches will be distributed for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, as well as Monday breakfast.
  • Buses will make 30-minute stops at each location, between 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

The following pages contain a current list of bus stops slated for school meals distribution. See an online map of school and bus stop distribution sites by going to https://tinyurl.com/HCPSMealsSites.

Neighborhood meals distribution bus stops:

(*Because of construction, curbside service will not be available at Holladay Elementary School until Sept. 14.)

Bus Stop Location (Elementary School, Middle School, High School)

  • Almora Ave. and Beth Road (Holladay E.S.*, Brookland M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Wistar Village Drive and Sprenkle Lane (Johnson E.S., Brookland M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Brook Run Drive and Cliffbrook Lane (Lakeside E.S., Moody M.S., Hermitage H.S.)
  • Virginia Center Parkway and Virginia Centerway Place (Longdale E.S., Brookland M.S., Hermitage H.S.)
  • Eunice Court and Eunice Drive (Dumbarton E.S., Brookland M.S., Hermitage H.S.)
  • Cardinal Road and Cardinal Court (Dumbarton E.S., Brookland M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Sargeant Court and Sanctuary Drive (Trevvett E.S., Brookland M.S., Hermitage H.S.)
  • Fox Rest Drive and Fernwood St.  (Holladay E.S.*, Brookland M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Shirleydale Ave. and Thalia Crescent (Ward E.S., John Rolfe M.S., Varina H.S.)
  • Adamson St. and Beaver Road (Donahoe E.S., Elko M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Cornett St. and Cedarwood St. (Donahoe E.S., Elko M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Oakano Drive and Old Bronze Road (Baker E.S., John Rolfe M.S., Varina H.S.)
  • Henrico Arms Apartments at Darbytown Road (Ward E.S., John Rolfe M.S., Varina H.S.)
  • Millers Lane and Kings Drive (Montrose E.S., John Rolfe M.S., Varina H.S.)
  • Wood Thrush Circle and Meadowlark Court (Adams E.S., John Rolfe M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Whiteside Road and Bradley Pines Circle (Seven Pines E.S., Elko M.S., Varina H.S.)
  • Betner Road and Betner Court (Seven Pines E.S., Elko M.S., Varina H.S.)
  • Hanover Road and Camero Court (Donahoe E.S., Elko M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Airport Drive and Airport Place (inside Oakmeade Apartments at second entrance) (Fair Oaks E.S., Elko M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Bull Run Court and Bull Run Drive (Mehfoud/Varina, Elko M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Dry Leaf Lane and Early Forest Circle (Donahoe E.S., Elko M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Millstone Landing Drive and Morning Creek Road (Shady Grove E.S., Short Pump M.S., Deep Run H.S.)
  • Fairlake Lane and Fairlake Court (Longan E.S., Holman M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Magnolia Ridge Drive and Sherwin Place (Greenwood E.S., Hungary Creek M.S., Glen Allen H.S.)
  • Maben Hill Run and Holman Ridge Road (Rivers Edge E.S., Holman M.S., Deep Run H.S.)
  • Three Chopt Road and Grove Gate Drive (Colonial Trail E.S., Quioccasin M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Three Chopt Road and Rockport Drive (Colonial Trail E.S., Quioccasin M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Woodman Road and Blackburn Road (Greenwood E.S., Hungary Creek M.S., Glen Allen H.S.)
  • Blue Ocean Lane and Calm Harbor Drive (Colonial Trail E.S., Short Pump M.S., Deep Run H.S.)
  • Grey Oaks Park Road and Grey Oaks Park Drive (Kaechele E.S., Short Pump M.S., Deep Run H.S.)
  • New Haven Drive and Old Nuckols Road (Twin Hickory E.S., Short Pump M.S., Deep Run H.S.)
  • Castle Point Road and Castle Point Lane (Echo Lake E.S., Hungary Creek M.S., Glen Allen H.S.)
  • Linsey Lakes Drive and Stone Lake Drive (Springfield Park E.S., Holman M.S., Glen Allen H.S.)
  • Mill Place Trail and Mill Place Drive (Glen Allen E.S., Hungary Creek M.S., Glen Allen H.S.)
  • Cloisters West (behind swimming pool) (Ridge E.S., Quioccasin M.S., Douglas Freeman H.S.)
  • Three Chopt Road and Bridgeworth Drive (Short Pump E.S., Pocahontas M.S., Mills Godwin H.S.)
  • Imperial Drive and Sir Walter Drive (Ridge E.S., Quioccasin M.S., Douglas Freeman H.S.)
  • Jamestown Apartments (at second entrance) (Maybeury E.S., Tuckahoe M.S., Douglas Freeman H.S.)
  • Pleasant Run Drive and Milhaven Drive (Carver E.S., Pocahontas M.S., Mills Godwin H.S.)
  • Pump Road and Castile Road (at entrance to Canterbury Square) (Maybeury E.S., Tuckahoe M.S., Douglas Freeman H.S.)
  • Castille Road and Palace Way (Maybeury E.S., Tuckahoe M.S., Douglas Freeman H.S.)
  • Gaskins Road and Marywood Lane (stop on Marywood Lane) (Pinchbeck E.S., Quioccasin M.S., Douglas Freeman H.S.)
  • Hungary Spring Road and Prestwick Road (Skipwith E.S., Quioccasin M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Engel Road/Pollard Drive and West Club Lane (Crestview E.S., Tuckahoe M.S., Douglas Freeman H.S.)
  • Tanelorn Drive and Spendthrift Drive (Jackson Davis E.S., Quioccasin M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Mountainbrook Drive and Huntsmoor Drive (Gayton E.S., Pocahontas M.S., Mills Godwin H.S.)
  • Wilde Lake Drive and Shore View Drive (Nuckols Farm E.S., Pocahontas M.S., Mills Godwin H.S.)
  • Heritage Hill Drive and Constitution Drive (Pemberton E.S., Quioccasin M.S., Mills Godwin H.S.)
  • Vollmer Road and Moorefield Road (Three Chopt E.S., Tuckahoe M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Sweetbriar Road and Woodberry Road (Tuckahoe E.S., Tuckahoe M.S., Douglas Freeman H.S.)
  • Old Route 301 and Grammarcy Circle (Chamberlayne E.S., Brookland M.S., Henrico H.S.)
  • Brookhill Road and Crenshaw Ave. (Laburnum E.S., Wilder M.S., Henrico H.S.)
  • Kenway Ave. (at swimming pool) (Arthur Ashe E.S., Fairfield M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Newbridge Circle and mailboxes (Coventry Gardens Apts.)  (Highland Springs E.S., Fairfield M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Newbridge Circle and Hawkes Lane (at Building 305) (Highland Springs E.S., Fairfield M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Watts Lane and Kings Point Drive (Harvie E.S., Fairfield M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Delmont St. and Engleside Drive (Laburnum E.S., Wilder M.S., Henrico H.S.)
  • Delmont St. and Winston St. (Glen Lea E.S., Wilder M.S., Henrico H.S.)
  • Bluestone Drive and Cool Lane (Ratcliffe E.S., Fairfield M.S., Highland Springs H.S.)
  • Strangeford Place and Glen Eagles Drive (Pinchbeck E.S., Quioccasin M.S., Mills Godwin H.S.)
  • Jack Burd Lane and Shrader Road (Dumbarton E.S., Brookland M.S., Hermitage H.S.)
  • Elswick Lane and Shrader Road (Dumbarton E.S., Brookland M.S., Hermitage H.S.)
  • Townhouse Road and mailboxes (Johnson E.S., Brookland M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Arbor Creek Drive and Arbor Creek Way (Colonial Trail E.S., Quioccasin M.S., J.R. Tucker H.S.)
  • Orchard Park Drive and Orchard Park Court (Twin Hickory E.S., Short Pump M.S., Deep Run H.S.)

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