Virginia Military Institute COVID Situation May Be Putting Students at Risk


“VMI never cared about COVID. I’m straight up with this, they never cared about COVID.” – “Kevin”

The Virginia Military Institute known as just Post to some and VMI to everyone else, has been in the news lately. It first came to Big Easy Magazine’s attention via former congressional candidate Rob Anderson. Anderson tweeted: “VMI nearing 22% COVID active positive rate. The sick and exposed sent off to crap local motels which are now full or shut in 7 person rooms. Parents not informed by school. No medical care at the motels. WiFi not working 1/2 the time for classes, no heat in some motels, no food service for many.” The rest of the tweets follow below.

Big Easy Magazine decided to take a look into these allegations. While there were several people involved in this story, only three were directly interviewed on the record. That includes “Sarah,” the mother of a VMI attendee; Colonel William “Bill” Wyatt, VMI Director of Communications and Marketing; “Kevin” a former VMI student. In requesting anonymity, Sarah explained, “VMI is extremely into retribution.” Regarding her son and his scholarship, “…and they will strip him of those and expel him if they find out I talked to anybody.”

First let’s address the COVID numbers. According to VMI’s dashboard,there are, as of February 12, 185 active positive cases, and 274 quarantined. Current enrollment at VMI is given as “about 1,700 cadets.” Therefore, Rob Anderson’s number at 1600 may be low. VMI’s website doesn’t appear to list an updated number for student population. Based on 1,700 nearly 11% of VMI students have tested positive, and 16% are in quarantine. Some disagree with these percentages, including Sarah and Kevin.

According to the Roanoke Times, “There were 145 active cases of COVID-19 among cadets on Wednesday, according to the college’s case dashboard. That amounts to 8.5% of the cadet population, an increase of one percentage point since Tuesday. An additional 254 cadets, 15% of the Corps, were quarantined.”

Kevin was an honor roll student in high school who volunteered hundreds of hours locally and was able to make it into the select VMI. At VMI, he began as a “Rat,” the lowest of the low, as do all new enrollees. Of the first COVID spike he experienced, Kevin states, “It was over three-hundred…the first spike occurred between November 20th through the beginning of October, and we actually found out when we were in quarantine, that VMI not only provided false information about the amount of cadets positive and in quarantine, but they also changed what the dashboard stated so that the numbers looked like they were a lot lower than there actually were.”

Kevin adds, “To get a more accurate number of those in quarantine (based on the dashboard,) you have to add the cadets tested number to the cadets currently in quarantine because they do not put a cadet who was tested into the number of quarantine units.”

Col. Wyatt denies that, writing to Big Easy Magazine, “Such allegations are patently false. In August, VMI was the first school in Virginia to publicly post a COVID dashboard to their website. It, along with a case log, has been updated nearly daily ever since. We’ve been very transparent throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so.”

Sarah and her son come from a long line of military families. Her son has wanted to serve since he was eight years old. He decided to go into the U.S. Army. Sarah served in both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, as well. She spoke to me, she says, as a concerned parent.

One of the biggest Super spreader events that may have just taken place is referred to as “Breakout.” The event is generally held in the first week of February. According to Sarah, “Breakout…it’s a tradition that’s been going on at VMI as long as it’s been an institute, since 1839. What happens is…when you go in, you’re called a Rat. You’re a pleb at the Naval Academy. You don’t have any rights. Everything is restricted. You don’t have any personal items, you don’t have your phones, you can’t listen to music. I mean everything is like you’re in boot camp, except stricter. And it isn’t until Breakout or until you’ve gone through the crucible, gone through hell week, you’ve gone through all the PT tortures, sweat parties as they call them. Anything else they want to do to you. They’ve had a lot of hazing incidents, and lawsuits at VMI as well.

“Once they reach Breakout, they go through a day of extreme hardship, and at the end of that day, they’re no longer Rats. They’re considered to be cadets.”

Kevin says of Breakout, “I have an email from the head of the VMI honor court stating that anyone, any Brother Rats (that’s what they’re referred to as in class) who were in quarantine that join Breakout do not have to Form 24 themselves because they were permitted to attend it, following an order from the medical department.

“And Form 24 is if you do something, break a rule, you have to report yourself for it.

Letter from VMI concering breakout. Name, address, and title of sender omitted

Here, Col. Wyatt agrees, writing, “First year cadets expressed a desire to participate in Breakout, a culminating event that defines their first year at the Institute. Our medical director was comfortable with having those who tested negative that morning participating in the event separate from the others. Quarantined cadets were designated with red safety belts.”

However, in an interview with Claire Mitzel of the Roanoke Times, Wyatt admitted attendance may have been problematic. “In retrospect, we needed to ensure that they stayed separate.” He added “And judging from some of the photos that I’ve seen — and like I said, I’m still trying to confirm it. Did that in fact happen? I think [separation] happened most of the day. But toward the end, things get a little hectic, and it appears that it might not have stayed that way for the entire day.”

Other than at Breakout, what is being done with the quarantined students? Some are quarantined on campus, and many others are quarantined in hotels.

As Anderson noted, there have been reports of up to seven people quarantined in a single room. However, Kevin says that he only shared his room with one other person.

At these hotels, students have experienced different problems, ranging from lack of available food, to doing without Wi-Fi. Sarah says that at the hotels they’re being quarantined in, some of them have no Wi-Fi to enable them to attend classes online. Some students reported not having had food delivered to them for almost 3 days.

Wyatt covers this writing, “IT is addressing those issues when they become aware of them. Cadets need to contact IT when the experience problems. The institute has a cache of Wi-Fi hotspots that can be deployed to problem areas.”

Both Sarah and Kevin agree that there has been a food problem, As Kevin put it, “During this quarantine was when I started to worsen mentally. The food was inedible. It either showed up cold, it wasn’t enough, or we didn’t even get it.

“Parents were not allowed to send any packages to quarantine, including food. However, for us in the room I was quarantined in for close contact, we constantly ordered pizza. We had a local grocery store deliver food, just so we had basic nutrition while we were there.”

Wyatt says this isn’t true. “Also, inaccurate. Cadets who are in isolation or quarantine are delivered 3 meals per day. How many meals are other schools delivering to their isolated and quarantined students?”

Assuming Anderson’s numbers are correct, and that the infection rate is more like 22%, it would not be unfair to say things have gotten out of hand. According to Sarah, she knows where she’d like to point the blame, “The Board of Visitors. They are a small group of Alumni and they literally run everything…” She adds, “…They are the ones who made the decision that they are not gonna go home. They don’t care how many COVID incidents there are, and they are actually, according to them, working towards, ‘herd immunity.’ We saw how well that went in Sweden. It doesn’t work.”

I wrote to Col. Wyatt asking him about that. “A person I interviewed said you were aiming for ‘herd immunity.’ Is that correct and why would you expect that to work?”

“No.” That’s the only answer I get on that subject. But both Anderson and Sarah believe otherwise and one source on campus concurs.

As far as sending students home when a certain number of students become infected, Anderson says that last semester it was set at 50.

Kevin agrees. “VMI never cared about COVID. I’m straight up with this, they never cared about COVID. When we had the first spike of over 80, VMI was supposed to–their rule was to be shut down when they hit 50, and they just continued to increase the number. And while we had that spike, the Rat Lines continued. We still had the sweat parties, we still had upperclassmen screaming in our faces. We did not have social distancing as much as people like to think we do. Our social distancing was double arm in a hold which is arm straight out, and the person next to you, their arm straight out, but that was only for formal inspections. Otherwise, they were all within feet of each other.”

Wyatt says otherwise, writing succinctly, “VMI has never had a threshold for closing the school. The barracks rumor mill is alive and well.”

Sarah hopes they will reconsider. “Hopefully people will pay attention because, like I said, half of these kids are people who are wanting to serve our country, you know, they want to commission. They want to do something for our nation, in what they think is the best, positive way, and they’re being treated like garbage. They might as well be in prison.”

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