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The college students showed us the way

The difficult work for Longwood University officials began over the summer.

The school’s administration committed to remake the university and turn a student body that treasured community and social interaction into a COVID-safe environment.

Dining options, residence hall living and classroom spaces were all reevaluated to make sure the students had plenty of space to socially distance themselves. COVID-19-related restrictions were attached to the university honor code, making mask-wearing mandatory on campus.

Hampden-Sydney College went through many of the same exercises and came up with a unique fall semester schedule designed to limit exposure to the virus with aggressive testing of every student that established a sort of bubble environment at the school.

Still, in August, members of the community were very concerned about becoming a two-college town again. In response to the student population basically doubling the size of Farmville, the Town Council passed a resolution limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people. Some Town Council members thought 50 may be too high of a number.

The emergency ordinance applied to everyone in Farmville, but it was no secret the measure was aimed at the college students.

Other colleges around the state and the nation struggled, with many universities returning to the safe haven of remote learning and clearing residence halls shortly after students arrived. The odds appeared to be long for any institution of higher learning looking for some sense of normalcy.

But as it turned out, we could learn a few things from the students. While they regularly followed the rules and wore masks even while walking around the streets of Farmville, many of the townspeople could be found shopping area stores and in other gatherings without masks.

Health officials made it clear throughout the fall that the college students were not the cause of community spread in Prince Edward County. The rise in cases was from simple community spread caused by gatherings.

The colleges weren’t perfect. Each of them had moments of trepidation where you looked at their COVID-19 dashboards and wondered if the virus was getting ready to explode, but they hung in there, quarantined the people who may have been in contact with those who were positive and moved on.

The successful semesters at Longwood and Hampden-Sydney should show all of us that masks work, social distancing works and contact tracing combined with quarantines is an effective way to control the virus.

May we learn from their diligence and commit to keeping ourselves healthy this holiday season and be a safer community for them when the students return in 2021.

(The views in this editorial are of The Farmville Herald editorial staff. This editorial was written by Editor Roger Watson. He can be reached at Editor@ FarmvilleHerald.com or (434) 808-0622.)