On Thursday, University of Virginia President Jim Ryan and his leadership team took to Zoom to provide updates and answer questions about the University’s COVID-19 response and future plans in a virtual town hall.
Besides Ryan, speakers included Provost Liz Magill, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. K. Craig Kent. All four thanked the UVA community for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic so far, from students, faculty and staff who made the transition to online courses possible to the men and women of UVA Health, who are working around the clock to serve their patients and their community.
“I have been a part of this community for 30 years,” Ryan said, “and I have never been more grateful to be part of it than I am today. What we are facing is really difficult, and it is going to require all of us working together to confront it.”
Ryan, Magill, Davis and Kent provided updates on everything from the latest UVA Health news to information for students, staff and faculty members; questions regarding summer and fall courses; and information on how UVA is supporting Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the Commonwealth of Virginia. They also shed light on their decision-making process, as they have worked with their teams to plan and prepare as much as possible for what lies ahead.
“This unfolding crisis has required us to make a lot of difficult decisions quickly, and often with imperfect information,” Ryan said. “Our main goal has been to keep our university operating so that we can carry out our core mission of teaching, research, service and medical care while doing all we can to keep our university community safe and healthy.”
Here are a few key takeaways from the town hall. The full video is also available below.
- UVA Health News: Kent, who came to UVA Health two months ago, said the system is well-prepared to handle a surge in cases. He anticipates that Charlottesville COVID-19 cases will peak in mid-May, though he acknowledged that those projections could change quickly. UVA’s new 86-bed hospital expansion, which was projected to complete in June but will be expedited, will provide crucial additional capacity. Fifteen of those new beds opened Thursday, especially designed to care for COVID patients. All 86 are projected to be available by May 1. UVA has enough personal protective equipment to protect providers at the moment, Kent said, and efforts are underway to secure more for the coming weeks and months.
- Testing updates: UVA was the first in Virginia to develop an in-house COVID-19 test and is providing testing at UVA and for almost 30 regional hospitals. UVA researchers are also helping hospitals in the region develop their own tests. “UVA has been a leader in this regard and a resource for other hospitals,” Kent said. “I am really proud of everyone who worked so hard on this.” Anyone concerned that they might have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19 should call UVA Health at 434-982-6843 for guidance, before coming to the hospital.
- Final Exercises: Ryan said that a committee of staff and students is currently working on alternate plans for Final Exercises and looking at potential dates for a later ceremony. They are reaching out to graduating students for feedback and hope to share more details soon.
- Workforce updates: Davis said the University is committed to honoring employment contracts for the foreseeable future and is working with contractors, such as Aramark, to help contract employees who have been furloughed, such as those who provide dining services. “This is disappointing for all of us,” Davis said. She said the University is working with contractors to provide relief and investigate options from the federal and state government. Aramark, for example, is providing additional sick leave and continued health benefits, and implementing a drive-through meal pick-up program. The University is also working with Charlottesville and Albemarle County to find ways to support workers who have been furloughed.
- Online courses: Magill gave an update about the shift to online courses, saying that all 4,273 classes offered this spring have been moved online. “I feel lucky to be a part of this team and this university, and thank all of you who have joined in working so hard to meet the challenges we face,” she said. Her team, deans, faculty and staff are working to ensure classes run smoothly, and to help students and faculty adjust research and other work to comply with social distancing
- Summer operations: All in-person summer programs through June 30 are being moved online, which includes the first two summer sessions. All 40 UVA-led, summer study-abroad programs have been cancelled. Magill also said leaders are making contingency plans for new student orientation and other activities beginning in July, should those need to be moved online.
- Fall operations: Ryan said that the University hopes to be operating normally by the start of the fall semester, but leaders are developing contingency plans if that is not possible. “Our sincere hope is that we will be able to up and running and back to normal,” he said. “But it is honestly too early to tell, and will depend on the progression of the virus.” Leaders are currently working to identify a date by which the University must make a decision about the fall semester.
View the full town hall below.