The University of Virginia on Tuesday evening announced the implementation of new health and safety restrictions in response to a recent rise in the number of COVID-19 cases among students.
The new restrictions took effect Tuesday evening and will remain in place through Feb. 26, when University leaders will re-evaluate them based on case numbers and other data at that time.
The new measures were announced in a University community email message from President Jim Ryan, Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. K. Craig Kent, Provost Liz Magill and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis.
“We know that the temporary steps outlined below will be difficult for members of this community, particularly our students,” the leaders wrote. “That said, in light of the rapid growth in cases we have seen over the past week, we believe they are essential to preserving our isolation and quarantine space and reducing the risk of spreading cases into the Charlottesville/Albemarle community.”
The operating changes include:
- All in-person events and gatherings, on- and off-Grounds, as defined in Policy SEC-045, are prohibited and should be moved online. These restrictions take effect at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
- This includes social gatherings, club and organization functions, and other in-person interactions that do not meet the exclusions set forth in SEC-045.
- In-person classes will continue, with additional measures enacted to limit congregation in common spaces before and after classes.
- Research activities will continue, with any modifications determined by the vice president of research and the provost.
- On-Grounds students may leave their residence hall for essential activities such as:
- Attending an in-person class.
- Eating at, or picking up a meal from, dining halls or other locations on Grounds.
- Engaging in an individual outdoor activity, such as running or walking.
- Complying with ongoing prevalence testing requirements, receiving a symptomatic COVID-19 test, or other medical care.
- Going to an on- or off-Grounds job, excluding volunteer activities, not impacted by these modified restrictions.
- Picking up mail at the mailroom.
- Going to the Bookstore for essential personal items.
- Off-Grounds students are encouraged to remain at home and limit contact with individuals outside of their living arrangement. Off-Grounds students may only come to Grounds to:
- Attend an in-person class.
- Eat at, or pick up meals from, dining halls if they have a meal plan.
- Comply with ongoing prevalence testing requirements, receive a symptomatic COVID-19 test, or other medical care.
- Go to an on-Grounds job not impacted by these modified restrictions.
- Recreational facilities will close at their planned times Tuesday evening and remain closed during this period.
- Libraries will close at their planned times Tuesday evening, with operations moving to contactless pick-up during this period.
- Dining facilities will remain open and grab-and-go options will remain available. In-person seating will be restricted to no more than two people dining together.
- Telework is strongly encouraged for as many employees as possible.
- For staff and students who work in areas that are closed due to the short-term measures and who are unable to work remotely, the University said employment status and pay will not be interrupted.
University leaders last week alerted UVA community members of the presence of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, known as the U.K. variant, and of a concerning rise in positive cases that was distributed widely among students both on- and off-Grounds.
The increase in cases continued over the weekend, and UVA’s COVID Tracker on Tuesday afternoon reported 364 active cases of COVID-19 among students, including 117 new cases on Monday. Overall, UVA reported 376 active cases, which includes faculty, students, staff and contracted employees. Quarantine space was listed at 24% occupied, with isolation space at 19%.
“If conditions improve as we expect, we will lift these restrictions and return to the plan with which we started the semester,” the UVA leaders said in the message. “In the event we continue to see a rise in cases, we will be forced to consider additional measures, including moving all undergraduate classes online and considering the same for graduate and professional schools.”
The University continues to emphasize fundamental preventative measures for helping to prevent the spread of the virus:
- Wear masks, and double them when possible and practical.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Stay 6 feet away from others.
- Avoid out-of-town travel unless absolutely necessary.
In the message, the leaders stressed that “if this announcement, or coping with the pandemic overall, is making you feel anxious, isolated, or depressed, please make use of the resources UVA offers students and employees to help members of this community care for their mental health.”
They concluded, “This is crunch time. If individual members of this community take this seriously for the next 10 days, we will see a decline in cases and a return to a more ‘normal’ spring semester,” the message said. “The alternative is additional consequences, not only for the type of semester we have as a university, but potentially for the health and safety of the people who live, learn, and work at and around UVA.”