Photos: Life on Grounds as UVA Confronts a Pandemic

March 19, 2020 By Sanjay Suchak, Sanjay Suchak,

Editor’s Note: Almost one year ago, the emerging COVID-19 pandemic forced UVA to announce it would move all of its courses online. Students were urged to return to their homes. Along with the rest of the world, the entire UVA community entered a new way of life. As we approach the anniversary of these events, take a look back to early days of the pandemic and what Grounds looked like as UVA shifted to a new paradigm.

As the threat of the novel coronavirus spread across the globe, it became increasingly clear that the University of Virginia would not be immune.

On March 11, UVA President Jim Ryan announced that classes would move online in an effort to “flatten the curve” and contain a growing epidemic. With that announcement, UVA moved into uncharted territory and joined countless other universities and organizations across the United States in adapting to this new normal.

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As a photographer, I believe it is important to remain safe, but also continue to document, both to create a historical record of this unprecedented time and to show the hard work of members of the University’s faculty and staff. Equally important, I felt we needed to convey our students’ experience as they mourn the sudden and unexpected end to their semester as they knew it.

Here’s what I have seen around Grounds. These were taken throughout the week as the situation on Grounds evolved. Now, courses will remain online for the rest of the semester and faculty and staff have been asked to telecommute as their responsibilities allow.

Construction of the Memorial of Enslaved Laborers with a table in the middle and a person sitting in a chair working at the table
Mike Spence, project manager for the new Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, under construction on Grounds, practices safe social distancing by setting up his office in the center of the nearly completed memorial.
The Rotunda mostly empty with chairs and screens set up in preparation of a speech
Meanwhile in the Rotunda, a Ph.D. candidate defended a dissertation to faculty both in the room and over videoconferencing software.
Alderman Library empty of people only furniture can be seen
Alderman Library is completely empty, except for staff at the circulation desk.

Sign on a wooding table that reads: please practice safe social distancing

Around Alderman staff have posted reminders about safe social distancing on tables; however, the normally popular lounge remained empty.

Worker in bright green shirt  looking out a restaurant window
Staff at The Castle dining facility look out the window. There are no customers to attend to, as most first-years have left for home. Only Observatory Hill Dining remains open.
Tiana Santana tying a rope over her luggage on the back of a pickup truck
First-year student Tiana Santana from North Carolina secures her suitcases in the back of a truck as she moves out of her dorm. The University gave students until noon Wednesday to retrieve any belongings they wanted. Only students and faculty who have no other option may remain in on-Grounds housing.
A pink sign with black text on it.  Text is hard to read
At Bodo's on the Corner, a normally bustling lunch spot had only a handful of customers. A sign at the door implored customers to practice safe social distancing, wash their hands and take their food to go.
UVA Health member talking to people before entering the Hospital
Zachary S., a greeter on the front door team for UVA Health, screens two visitors to the UVA Medical Center. Greeters at every entrance are asking visitors a series of questions to determine if they are at risk of possibly having been infected with COVID-19. Visitors with respiratory symptoms or possible COVID-19 exposure are not allowed in clinics or the Medical Center.
Two people walking down a side walk caring packages in their arms while wearing masks
Mask-wearing students carry items past the usual display of shirts outside Mincer’s on the Corner, a juxtaposition illustrating just how fast the current situation is shifting from normal to anything but normal.
Two people standing outside of a big brick building.  One has a camera on a tripod taking pictures and one is holding a laptop
UVA School of Architecture Creative Director of Communications Sneha Patel and photographer Tom Daly work to create panoramic photos of the School of Architecture to quickly provide virtual tours for prospective students, as physical visits will be impossible for now.
Looking over a railing of empty desks and chairs
Meanwhile inside the architecture studio, floor desks are empty and the space, which is normally loud and bustling at this point in the semester, is completely silent. Student projects sit unfinished across the whole area.
Person shopping at shelves that are half empty with a sign that reads Some products may be temporarily unavailable due to high demand
Inside CVS Pharmacy on the Corner, a student shops amid bare shelves where disinfectant cleaning products used to be stocked. A notice on one shelf announces that some products are unavailable.
UVA Staff member placing a sign on a door that reads: Be Aware.  Be thoughtful. Be kind.
A UVA Facilities Management employee tapes a notice on the door of Old Cabell Hall with considerations for those who enter the building.
Guilford sitting at his desk listening to students speaking
Biomedical engineering professor William Guilford conducts a Zoom class from his office for students in his “Biomedical Engineering Design and Discovery” course.

Guilford, teaching a zoom class and using a tablet to show specific work to his students

Guilford, assistant dean for undergraduate education at the School of Engineering, helped fellow faculty members prepare to shift classes online in a matter of days. Most online instruction began Thursday and continues through the end of the semester.

Groups of students gathering on the Lawn playing games and talking
St. Patrick’s Day on the Lawn looked like nearly any other one from years before. At around 6 p.m. Tuesday, when this photo was taken, more than 100 students congregated on the Lawn despite the University’s order to return home and pleas from health care specialists to socially distance themselves from each other.
View of the Rotunda from the Lawn at night with the sidewalk and Rotunda lights shining
By 10 p.m., the situation had changed. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order banning congregating in groups larger than 10 people. Ryan shortly thereafter sent an email notifying the UVA community that all classes would be conducted online for the rest of the semester and Final Exercises would not be held as originally planned. Corner restaurants and bars like Boylan Heights and Trinity, which only hours earlier were full of students, were now empty, with the exception of staff. On the Lawn, students came to mourn the end of their college time. In this photo, students embrace on the Lawn, shocked that they now must leave and the remainder of their college time will take place outside of Charlottesville and apart from each other.
People sitting in front of the Rotunda on its steps and Lawn
The next morning, the situation was quite different. Students were observed sitting in a circle, a perfect six feet apart, enjoying their Bodo’s bagels.
Yellow field line in the middle bottom of the photo going away from the camera and a person moving a soccer goal field
Employees from IM-Rec Sports moved the goals together on Carr’s Hill Field to lock them up as they close the field for the remainder of the semester.
Two facilities management workers working on a bath tub.  One is sitting on a white 5 gallon bucket and looking into a whole in the shower wall and the second is bent down watching
Facilities Management employees used the unforeseen vacancy in the Colonnade Club to replace plumbing fixtures that were obsolete, but could not be replaced when guests were present. Facilities Management staff have worked tirelessly to maintain and secure Grounds.
Two students in a dorm room talking.  Left person is standing at the closet right: person is sitting on couch
Graduate students Morgan and Chris pack up Morgan’s room on the East Range. This is their last semester at the University.
Student sitting alone at a table with headphones on.
Across Grounds, a lone student has a Zoom video conference with a professor in an otherwise empty South Lawn Commons. Shortly after this photo was taken, he closed his laptop, gathered his belongings and left. The normally busy building took on an eerie silence.
Two students looking at each other in the lab smiling while a professor stands behind them talking
At UVA Health, Dr. Steven Zeichner and his lab technicians Hanna Yu and Vignesh Rajasekaran are hard at work developing a potential vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, as well as working to understand how the disease affects children. Their work will help formulate best practices for treatment of younger patients who become infected.
30 pack of Genesee Light on the brick sidewalk in front of a Lawn room with a note that read Take me, just promise you'll [expletive blurred out] quarantine
Students moving out of their Lawn rooms left notes to whoever might chance upon them, this one taped to an added incentive.
Door with the number 17 with a sign that reads Gone Fishin'
Graduates standing and sitting on the rail of the Rotunda looking out on the Lawn
Some graduating students donned their caps and gowns early to take one last look at the Lawn before snapping some pictures and heading home.