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Welcome back students by wearing a mask

For the first time since March, Farmville will return to its status as a two-college town with the reopening of Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College in just a few weeks.

The town’s population will double as students return, helping to bring our sleepy town and struggling local economy back to life. The important symbiotic relationship between Farmville and its colleges was highlighted in March when students were suddenly sent home, putting a town filled with college life during a blossoming spring into an early hibernation.

While some may be concerned about bringing 6,000 students to town in the middle of a pandemic, the fact is at this point the students may have more reason to be wary of us than we do to be concerned about them. With cases in the Piedmont Health District increasing by 80% between June and July, it’s not like we have done a great job controlling this disease at the moment.

The reopenings come with new procedures at Longwood for social distancing and requirements for face coverings while on campus. Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV spoke Friday about how the school planned to apply the health responsibilities to the school’s honor code and how he expects the students to be responsible members of the community while they are here.

“We are also going to be really, really mindful that Longwood students are ambassadors of the university around town and more broadly. It is going to be crucially important for them to be good citizens,” he said.

Reveley said he understands the natural tension in the soul of the town about the reopenings of the colleges with the vitality of the town hinging on healthy, vibrant student populations along with the concern about more people being in town and more opportunities for exposure.

“American life is different, hopefully just for a temporary moment here in 2020, and we are trying to do everything we can in this COVID environment to do crucial and important things safely and I think that we can,” Reveley said, while also mentioning that the student attitude and adherence to the honor code and guidelines is key to making the situation work for everyone.

Reveley said students seen throwing parties in lawns without masks would be handled appropriately.

“I think we would be very vigorous about that,” he said. “We are robustly encouraging people to understand that the semester works to the extent that they look out for each other and look out for the community.”

As a town, we must also do our part to help make this work. We should join the students by taking this situation seriously and following the CDC guidelines to the letter. We all need to wear masks to keep each other safe. We need to follow the guidelines on gatherings and social distancing. Groups crowding into restaurants and outdoor seating areas do not serve us well during this time.

As a town, many of our small businesses need the reopening plans of Longwood and Hampden-Sydney to work well. As a community, we need to do our small part to help make that happen.

Two college populations constrained somewhat by COVID-19 restrictions is better than no college students in town.

Longwood and Hampden-Sydney are doing their part. Let’s make sure we do our part as well.

ROGER WATSON is editor of The Farmville Herald. His email address is Roger.Watson@FarmvilleHerald.com.