On Friday, the University of Virginia confirmed that there are cases of the B.1.1.7. coronavirus variant in the UVA community and emphasized the importance of preventative measures as positive cases of COVID-19 have increased both on- and off-Grounds.
The variant, also known as the U.K. variant, originated in the United Kingdom and is believed to be more contagious than the original strain of the coronavirus. It is now present more than 70 countries and 37 U.S. states; officials believe it will become the dominant strain in the U.S. within a month.
Overall, as of Friday, the UVA COVID Tracker showed a rise in COVID-19 cases in the UVA community over the past week, with 222 active cases and an average of 36 new cases per day, as opposed to 11 new cases per day the week before.
In a message to the UVA community Friday, University leaders, including Provost Liz Magill, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Department of Medicine Chair Dr. Mitch Rosner, urged caution and outlined plans to slow the spread of the virus on Grounds.
“These are concerning developments, but we believe we are capable of managing them as an institution and as individual members of this community,” they wrote.
To help limit viral spread, UVA will continue to expand its saliva testing program for students, faculty and staff. The University has also begun mandatory retesting of students who live in residence halls and off-Grounds locations that have seen a rise in cases. Tens of thousands of three-ply masks, purchased by UVA prior to the semester, are available to students, faculty and staff, and can be picked up at any of the University’s saliva testing sites.
As another way to prevent infections, University leaders decided to continue limiting gatherings to six people until conditions improve. Additional restrictions could be implemented if cases continue to rise, leaders noted in the email.
“If cases continue to increase, our isolation and quarantine capacity will become strained and we will be forced to consider stricter measures, including a shift to ‘Short-Term Restricted Operations,’ which would include moving all classes, meetings and gatherings online, school-level decisions to modify graduate and professional programs, as well as limitations on students’ ability to travel on- and off-Grounds.”
More information about the Short-Term Restricted Operations contingency plans is available here.
Despite their concerns, leaders said they remained optimistic and confident that students, faculty and staff would comply with recommendations and do their best to stop the spread of the virus.
“The good news is, we have the ability, as individual members of this community, to reverse these trends and keep our semester on track by following the same protocols that were so effective last semester,” they wrote. “Now, more than ever: Wear your mask; stay home when you’re sick and – please – if you have any symptoms of the virus, immediately get tested at Student Health or Employee Health; stay at least six feet apart from others at all times; do not gather in groups of more than six, even if you are wearing masks and practicing physical distancing. Comply with all prevalence testing requirements, no matter what.
“The recipe for success remains simply and easy to follow – but increased viral prevalence and more contagious variants mean the margin for error is narrower and the stakes are higher,” they concluded. “Everyone at UVA is working hard to keep members of this community safe and to make this semester as rich and rewarding as possible. If we are going to stay on track, we need your help. Thank you for doing your part for all of us.”