The University of Virginia implemented a new, temporary set of precautions Friday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus because of “a significant uptick in cases in the Charlottesville region and around the country.”
Provost Liz Magill and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis detailed the new precautions Friday in an email to the University community as the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to grip the world.
“In order to limit opportunities for the virus to spread in crowded settings, we will begin the semester with a temporary prohibition on food and beverages at University and student organization-related events held on and off Grounds, including athletics competitions. This policy, which will be in effect from Jan. 17 to Feb. 4, will help ensure that all people who attend these events are wearing masks the entire time they are around others,” it read.
“During this temporary window, we strongly encourage University community members to avoid organizing or attending large indoor events, especially ones where enforcing a mask mandate will be difficult and/or the vaccination status of the crowd is unknown. We are also asking that you conduct events virtually or outdoors if at all possible.”
The pair also highlighted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention new recommendations of isolation and quarantine and said UVA will be following them.
“Those who are up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations (vaccinated and boosted) and test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate for only five days, instead of 10, provided that they are symptom-free, or their symptoms are abating after five days.
“Those who are up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations need not quarantine if they are exposed to COVID-19, but they should wear a mask around others for 10 days, watch for symptoms, and get tested five days after exposure if possible. CDC guidance states that those who are boosted do not need to quarantine if they are a close contact of someone infected with COVID-19.”
The email said that UVA has limited isolation spaces for on-Grounds students who test positive.
“As a result of those space limitations and the likelihood that omicron will cause more mild infections than we saw last semester, we are asking on-Grounds students who test positive to isolate at home if possible, provided they can travel there safely and do not live with someone who is at high risk of more serious infection.”
UVA will prioritize its isolation space for students who live in hall-style residence halls with shared bathrooms. “Students living in other on-Grounds residential configurations may be asked to isolate in place, depending on their specific circumstances,” the email said.
“Students who live in off-Grounds residences and test positive should plan to isolate in place at their residence or travel home if they can do so safely.
“We will be providing faculty with strategies for helping students unable to attend class to keep up with their coursework. We encourage students to notify instructors when they cannot attend class, and to ask their instructors for guidance about how to remain on track,” Magill and Davis wrote.
UVA’s mask policy will continue in the spring semester. Due to the increased contagiousness of the omicron variant, the University strongly recommends wearing a medical grade three-ply mask (like the light blue masks commonly worn in medical settings) instead of a single-layer fabric mask. UVA will make masks available outside of classrooms and in other public areas for those who need them.
Magill and Davis reminded students, faculty and staff of the University’s booster policy and noted that Friday was the deadline for uploading proof of one’s booster shot. Students can upload their booster status to the HealthyHoos platform and UVA employees can use Workday.
UVA Health, including School of Medicine and School of Nursing faculty and staff, has set a deadline of Feb. 1 to comply with this requirement.
UVA’s testing policies will also remain the same this semester. “Any members of our community who are unvaccinated will be required to appear for weekly prevalence testing. More information on the University’s testing approach, including how to schedule an asymptomatic test, is available here. Those experiencing symptoms should test at a health provider,” Magill and Davis said.
Magill and Davis encouraged students who have access to testing in their home communities, and who are symptomatic, to take a test before returning to Grounds and to isolate at home if the test is positive.
“We recognize that limited resources may make this difficult in many areas, but if you are able, please take this extra precaution to test before you arrive. If you are unable, and you are symptomatic, please sign up for a test as soon as you arrive,” the email read.
Safe at Work
The University will continue to monitor public health conditions and will make changes to its approach if they become necessary, Magill and Davis wrote.
“Despite the ongoing need for these policies, we are very excited to kick this semester off and optimistic about the experiences we can share living, learning and working together on Grounds,” the pair concluded. “This virus will pose challenges this semester. But we, as a UVA community, have the capacity to do the right things to keep ourselves and others safe and make the most of this opportunity to be here on Grounds.”