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Timeline | A look back on COVID-19 at JMU

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JMU Empty Quad

The Quad sits empty.

Jan. 24, 2020

JMU makes first public comment on COVID-19

JMU sent its first official communication about COVID-19 to the university’s community, saying that while there was no need for concern at the time, community members should take general public health precautions.

Feb. 29, 2020

JMU begins canceling, bringing home study abroad programs

JMU announced its first modifications to study abroad programs. Students in the Florence program were brought back to the U.S., summer programs scheduled to go to China and Japan were canceled and other study abroad summer programs were put on hold.

March 3, 2020

Provost warns faculty and staff of looming changes

March 3, 2020, Provost Heather Coltman sent a memo to the Academic Affairs unit expressing that faculty and staff should expect to accommodate students affected by COVID-19.

March 11, 2020

JMU announces cancellation of in-person class, spring break extended

JMU announced its first major operational shift due to COVID-19. No in-person classes would be held the week of March 16, and beginning March 23, most classes would be conducted online until at least April 5.

March 12, 2020

NCAA cancels all championship tournaments for remainder of season, football pro day cancelled 

College athletics took a major hit from COVID-19, with the NCAA canceling all championship tournaments for the remainder of the season. At JMU, Football Pro Day — the day NFL scouts come to JMU — was also canceled.

March 14, 2020

Harrisonburg declares state of emergency

The city of Harrisonburg declared an official state of emergency due to COVID-19, following state- and national-level states of emergency from Gov. Northam and former President Trump.

March 15, 2020

JMU faculty and staff encouraged to work remotely if possible

JMU sent its first memo to faculty and staff encouraging remote work if the employee’s job duties allowed for it.

March 18, 2020

JMU announces, then deletes “express checkout schedule”

JMU published and then deleted a webpage on the JMU website laying out a plan for on-campus students to move out for the Spring 2020 semester from March 23-27. Though the CDC had already urged against large gatherings, the JMU webpage stated that students “must adhere” to the proposed schedule.

March 18, 2020

JMU graduation ceremonies postponed

Following an earlier communication from President Alger announcing a postponement of graduation ceremonies, JMU canceled the ceremonies entirely.

March 19, 2020

President Alger announces classes moving online for remainder of semester

President Alger officially announced the end of the in-person spring semester. Going forward, all classes would be moving online and residence halls would be closing.

March 19, 2020

JMU confirms first positive student case

JMU confirmed the first positive case of COVID-19 in a student. The student had recently returned from a non-JMU related trip abroad. 

March 22, 2020

Stranded JMU alumna returns to US

A JMU alumna who was stranded in Honduras due to COVID-19 complications made it back to the U.S. safely just before the Honduran government closed its borders.

March 24, 2020

JMU announces credit/no credit grading policy

JMU announced that it would offer a “credit/no credit” grading policy for many classes, allowing students to receive credit for a class with no GPA ramifications if they had a final grade of at least “C” in the class.

March 30, 2020

Gov. Northam issues Stay-at-Home order for Virginia

Gov. Northam issued a Stay-at-Home order for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. Under the order, individuals were only allowed to leave their homes to seek medical attention, attend work, care for family members and acquire essential goods and services.

April 1, 2020

JMU issues partial refunds

JMU announced its plans to partially refund students for on-campus housing and meal plan costs. In housing, students were refunded 72.5% of half of a semester’s cost; for meal plans, the refund amount was 75% of half of a semester’s cost of a student’s meal plan punch value.

April 7, 2020

JMU adjusts student fees

In response to students’ needs for summer classes to fulfill academic progression, JMU reduced the comprehensive fee for summer classes.

April 14, 2020

Graduation postponed to August

President Alger sent an email to students informing them that on-campus graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 had been postponed to Aug. 7-8. Graduating students still received their degrees May 8, officially becoming graduates.

May 15, 2020

JMU announces plans to resume in-person learning in fall

President Alger announced JMU’s plans to resume in-person learning for the Fall 2020 semester in response to 15,000 survey interactions from students, parents, and faculty and staff requesting an in-person fall experience.


More COVID-19 Coverage:

Coronavirus wipes out Greek Life philanthropies and events
JMU seniors react to COVID-19 impact
Health Center responds to COVID-19 with operational changes
International students face uncertainty amid COVID-19
Harrisonburg unites to make masks for local healthcare staff

June 1, 2020

JMU announces faculty’s return to campus

JMU sent an email to its faculty and staff announcing a “phased” return to in-person work for university employees beginning June 15.

June 3, 2020

Brickhouse Tavern closes its doors

The Breeze reported that Brickhouse Tavern, a JMU community staple, would officially close its doors.

June 9, 2020

City Council cuts budget by $11 million

Harrisonburg City Council announced that due to an expected $6 million budget shortfall caused by COVID-19 complications, the city would cut $11.2 million from its $281 million budget that had passed on May 26, 2020.

July 6, 2020

Graduation postponed for the second time

An email from President Alger announced that the class of 2020’s in-person graduation ceremonies — initially rescheduled for Aug. 7-8 — were being indefinitely postponed.

July 20, 2020

The Breeze reveals JMU COVID-19 cost of $33 million

The Breeze published the first story in a seven-part series digging into the $33 million dollar price tag JMU faced last summer.

August 7, 2020

Fall football season suspended

JMU Athletics announced its postponement of JMU’s 2020 fall football season. Though the program had originally announced intent to play as an independent after the CAA suspended its season in July, but after a number of schools dropped from FCS play, JMU followed suit.


More COVID-19 coverage:

JMU alumnus, CEO leads company, helps others amid COVID-19
International students live in uncertainty after ICE policy reversal
JMU alumna works the frontline at Sentara Hospital
JMU libraries battle to stay open during the coronavirus

Virtual Recruitment for Greek Life has been one of the many ways sororities and Fraternities have adapted to COVID-19. Reporter Keagan Hughes interviewed, Alexandra Benc, Chapter President of Alpha Phi, Shelby Baker, a sophomore sister in Zeta Tau Alpha, Bridgette Shallow, a junior in Alpha Delta Pi, and Charles Weismann, a Brother in Sigma Nu.

Alexandra Benc went into detail about how although the chapter bonding between sisters was lost because they could not physically meet in person, they still found other ways to make sure that the PNMS, potential new members, would still get that intimate and close bonds with the sisters.

Shelby Baker discussed that her sorority would do workshops to prepare and get ready for recruitment over zoom, as well as Alexandra mentioned how Alpha Phi was given guides and manuals, backgrounds, and worked with the company Zoom itself to learn the best methods and make it easier on all people going through the recruitment process.

Sigma Nu said that the number of people that are showing up through rush events is about the same or even more and that the best method for people to hear about these events were over their social media accounts, like Instagram.

Although this year is a bit different than prior years, the Greek Life community prepared and adapted to the changes and helped welcome new James Madison University students to their new homes.


August 10, 2020

All fall sports suspended

Following the announcement of JMU Football’s season postponement, JMU Athletics announced the suspension of its entire fall sports program and that it would look to resume in the spring.

August 14, 2020

Harrisonburg city limits gatherings to less than 50 people

The city of Harrisonburg held an emergency meeting for an ordinance limiting gatherings to 50 people or less. The ordinance went into effect Aug.12 at midnight.

August 21, 2020

Freshman move-in begins

Freshman move-in for what was expected to be an in-person Fall 2020 semester began.

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August 24, 2020

JMU reports COVID-19 data to the DNR for the first time

Aug. 24, 2020, JMU released COVID-19 case data to the Daily News-Record reporter Pete DeLea before releasing it to The Breeze despite multiple personal requests and a FOIA request from The Breeze already filed with the university for that same data.

August 26, 2020

JMU denies parts of The Breeze’s FOIA request for COVID-19 data

JMU received an email from prior JMU Director of Comms. Caitlyn Read stating that parts of a FOIA request filed by The Breeze for COVID-19 data had been denied on grounds of privacy law exceptions. The denied information was a breakdown of positive cases by on-campus residence or an off-campus designation.

August 27, 2020

Football conditioning suspended after five positive team cases

JMU Athletics announced that football conditioning was suspended following five players testing positive for COVID-19.

August 31, 2020

Harrisonburg, JMU sees massive spikes in COVID-19 cases

Over the weekend of Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 to Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, JMU recorded its largest ever spike in COVID-19 cases Aug. 31 with 197. Alongside JMU, Harrisonburg recorded a similar record-setting spike in the same weekend with 106 new cases.

August 31, 2020

JMU suspends workouts for multiple sports

JMU Athletics announced that it would suspend conditioning and workout activities in multiple sports programs due to a rise in COVID-19 cases within the athletics department.

September 1, 2020

JMU passes 500 positive cases

Data from JMU’s “Stop the Spread” COVID-19 dashboard indicated that the university had officially passed 500 cases in its community.

September 1, 2020

JMU moves classes online

Following the 500 case milestone, JMU announced via email that only five days into the fall semester, classes would move to a primarily online format, with the possibility of a return to in-person instruction Oct. 5.

Following an email released to the JMU community about the university going fully online by September 7, University Spokesperson Caitlyn Read answers questions about the future of the fall semester.


More COVID-19 Coverage:

Freshmen experience altered orientation, sent home a week later
Well, that went well
JMU community reacts to university's online transition

September 4, 2020

JMU nearly runs out of isolation beds

The Breeze reported that 132 of JMU’s 143 medical isolation beds on campus were occupied — a 92% capacity rate.

September 7, 2020

Deadline for on-campus move out 

Students living on campus were instructed to move out of their residences by Sept. 7, 2020.

First years across James Madison University's campus are transitioning to online learning by September 7th. For most, this means packing up all their things and going home. Students and parents express their disappointment with the change to online learning and discuss their hopes for what comes next.

JMU students and parents talk about how soon the change was and what surprised them with the fast turn around. Overall however, students and parents both feel the need for safety and are glad that the university eventually made decisions to move online, despite the extra stress from coming back home. To parents, this means relief. To students, this means a reluctant transition to online learning which pose a new set of challenges.

Story by Gannon La Croix

September 7, 2020

JMU passes 1,000 cases

JMU passed 1,000 COVID-19 cases in its community, only six days after reaching 500.

September 8, 2020

Harrisonburg tallies largest single-day new case total

Harrisonburg’s positive case count hit a record high at 1,936. That same day, JMU’s case count reached 1,056.

September 16, 2020

JMU spokesperson says ‘students should plan to return’

The Breeze reported that prior JMU Director of Comms. Caitlyn Read said “students should plan to return to some level of in-person instruction on October 5.”

September 18, 2020

JMU makes decision to bring students back to campus

At the Sept. 18, 2020, JMU Board of Visitors meeting, President Alger announced his official plans to bring students back to campus for in-person instruction on Oct. 5. Included was that the fall semester would be moving to a fully online format following Thanksgiving break.

On Friday Sept. 18, the JMU Board of Visitors met to discuss the return of students on Oct. 5. After an outbreak of COVID-19, the university sent on-campus residents home and transitioned in-person classes to primarily online formats. President Alger said in the meeting that the administration plans to reopen in October and that the scheduled fall break may be removed from the academic calendar.

September 30, 2020

Public submitted comments indicate JMU community split over decision to return to campus 

The Breeze reported that public comments submitted for the Sept. 18 Board of Visitors meeting indicated that the JMU community was split on the decision to return to campus.

Oct. 3, 2020

UHC begins offering rapid COVID-19 tests

The Breeze reported that JMU’s University Health Center would begin offering COVID-19 rapid tests alongside non-rapid tests, and that the university would maintain authority over who was given which kind of test.

Oct. 5, 2020

In-person classes resume

In line with plans submitted to JMU’s Board of Visitors by President Alger, students returned to in-person instruction with heavily modified campus operations.

October 5, 2020

Richmond Times-Dispatch reveals the hundreds of public comments submitted regarding re-opening weren’t shared with BoV 

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that hundreds of public comments submitted for the JMU Board of Visitors Sept. 18 meeting weren’t shared with the BoV. Instead, Board members were provided with a link to the comments a week and a half after the BoV meeting.

October 5, 2020

The Breeze releases survey indicating that most participants were unhappy with JMU’s COVID-19 response

The Breeze reported that 83% of individuals out of around 1,800 who took a survey administered by The Breeze expressed disappointment in JMU’s handling of COVID-19.

October 19, 2020

JMU announces it will administer 1,000 free COVID-19 tests each week for five weeks

JMU announced that it would administer 1,000 free COVID-19 tests each week for five weeks as a way to surveil the presence of COVID-19 in the university community.

October 22, 2020

Athletics revealed to be short $5.5 million due to COVID-19

The Breeze reported that in a virtual press conference, JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne announced that the athletics department was looking at an estimated $5.5 million dollar loss due to complications related to COVID-19.

October 23, 2020

JMU announces removal of spring break

JMU announced that there would be no week-long spring break for the 2021 spring semester. Instead, the week-long break would be replaced with three “break days”  — Feb. 17, March 12 and April 8 — in response to public health concerns around student travel during the break.

November 23, 2020

The Breeze reveals record withdraws, deferrals, tuition loss in response to COVID-19 

Nov. 23, 2020, The Breeze reported that COVID-19 resulted in a critically high amount of withdrawals and deferrals. The result, according to Senior VP for Administration and Finance Charlie King — a $12.6 million dollar loss in revenue for JMU.


More COVID-19 Coverage:

Counseling Center moves to ‘tele-mental health’ in light of COVID-19
Beyond the game: Athletes' mental health during a pandemic
Student organizations face difficulty recruiting members during COVID-19
JMU collaborates with local hotels to ensure quarantine space

November 24, 2020

JMU athletics returns with men’s basketball victory

JMU Athletics made a victorious return, first with a women’s tennis win over USF on March 12, and then with a win from men’s basketball over Limestone on Nov. 24 that also marked the beginning of the Byington era and the inaugural game of the Atlantic Union Bank Center.

December 19, 2020

Virtual graduation held

JMU held an online graduation for its class of 2020 graduates in lieu of any in-person ceremonies.

December 21, 2020

JMU announces virtual classes through Jan. 29

JMU announced via email that spring semester classes would be entirely online through Jan. 29, followed by a transition to a hybrid format Feb. 1 at each professor’s discretion.

January 12, 2021

Nursing students become eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

JMU nursing students were notified via email that they would be eligible to receive the vaccine. Throughout January and February, the nursing students received both rounds of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

January 14, 2021

JMU chosen to host vaccination events

Jan. 14, 2021, Provost Health Coltman and VP for Student Affairs Tim Miller announced at a town hall meeting that JMU had been chosen by the VDH to host vaccination events for the Central Shenandoah Health District.

January 21, 2021

The Breeze reveals JMU’s continued refusal to release daily, by-dorm COVID-19 data

The Breeze reported that after continued requests, both in personal and legal formats, JMU has maintained its position on not releasing daily, by-dorm COVID-19 data, citing data privacy laws.

January 29, 2021

JMU hosts entry testing for students returning to campus

During the weekend of Jan. 29, 2021, through Jan. 31, 2021, JMU conducted COVID-19 entry testing at the Convocation Center for students returning to on-campus living.

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As a way to prevent clusters of COVID-19, all students living on campus are now required to get tested before returning to JMU

Entry testing started this month at the Convocation Center. All on-campus students were tested and signed up through the athletic ticket office.

Students were then required to present the Navica app at check-in and at a table where students received their test. They then waited in the Convocation Center until a notification from the Navica app notified them if they were positive or negative. JMU was not given a choice in using the Navica app as the university received the tests from the State of Virginia.

After students take the test, student volunteers and health center staff take the test, put it in a paper sleeve, and twist it three times with a COVID-19 antigen. The tests are then placed on a tray and taken to a room to be analyzed. If positive, students received a second test and were escorted to another room.

If negative, they were free to go. If positive again, they would be sent home or were offered to stay in a quarantine or isolation room.

February 1, 2021

In-person classes resume

JMU moved from an entirely virtual class delivery format to a hybrid model left to the professors’ and academic unit heads’ discretion.