Like universities across the country, Richmond began fall semester with the belief that months of careful planning and preparation had laid the groundwork for a successful on-campus semester. Two important variables — the determination of everyone in the campus community to embrace safety protocols and, frankly, a dollop of good fortune — had to wait for the semester’s start.

So far, so good. As this issue went to press, the early weeks of the semester were proceeding exceptionally well, with students attending in-person classes and an on-campus COVID-19 positivity rate at only 0.4%, as of mid-September.

Significant university investment in health and safety measures helped pave the way for everyone’s return. It included the purchase of more than 15,000 cloth face coverings for use by students, faculty, and staff; upgrades to air handling systems in buildings across campus; and extensive testing and screening protocols for everyone on campus.

The university also installed modular housing units on campus to serve as isolation and quarantine space for more than 150 students, if needed, and reconfigured spaces across campus for new uses. One of the most interesting changes has been the creation of novel academic spaces in order to allow for recommended physical distancing (see story, Page 15).

The success of these measures all depends on the vigilance of the entire campus community over the full 117 days of the fall semester. To encourage safe practices, the university launched an extensive communications campaign across social media, email, physical signage, and other outlets with a simple message: “Six feet. Mask up. Protect our web.”

“Our top priority remains safeguarding the health and well-being of all students, staff, and faculty,” said President Ronald A. Crutcher. “It will be our shared responsibility for sustaining the circumstances that will make residential education and on-campus instruction possible amid the pandemic. We are many Spiders, one web, and it’s up to all of us to keep our community safe.”