University of Virginia President Jim Ryan addressed the University community Tuesday, outlining three new restrictions that will be in place for at least the next two weeks to help slow the spread of COVID-19 on Grounds.
Here is a transcript of Ryan’s remarks, as prepared.
Today I want to speak directly to students to share some important changes we’re making and explain why we’re making them.
I’ll start with a word of thanks. Over the last few weeks, the vast majority of you have been following the University’s health and safety guidelines in order to protect yourselves and the people around you – from the waiter on the Corner, to the dining hall employees, to the professor in front of the classroom. You have been doing the right thing, not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard – and for that we are incredibly grateful.
I especially want to thank the residents of Balz-Dobie, Lefevre, Echols and Kellogg, who had to be tested after we discovered signs that there might be infections in their residence halls, for handling disruptions to their schedules with patience and understanding. I also want to thank in advance those of you who may be asked to do something similar in the days and weeks ahead.
All of you are the reason we still have a chance to make this semester a success.
But, as we’ve said from the very beginning, staying one step ahead of this virus won’t be easy. It will require everyone doing their part – not just some of the time or even most of the time, but all the time.
Recently, it’s become clear just how difficult – and important – that is. Over the last few days, we’ve become more concerned about the spread of COVID-19 within the UVA community. Some of this has been driven by a rise in the number of positive cases in the UVA community. But we’ve also gotten reports of a few large student gatherings, both on and off Grounds, as well as reports about inconsistent adherence to masking and distancing guidelines.
This has caused concern among our public health experts, who worry that we may be headed in the wrong direction – and that if we don’t get back on track quickly, we could end up in a situation where we have to severely restrict where students can go or risk running short on isolation and quarantine space.
That’s not a situation any of us wants to be in, which is why we are putting in place three new restrictions that will apply to all students, on- and off-Grounds, for at least the next two weeks:
First, gatherings will now be limited to five people, down from a previous limit of 15. Students will still be able to safely gather outside, including on the Lawn, but will have to do it in groups of five or fewer. If this new limit is not respected, we may have to consider additional restrictions, including curfews.
Second, all students will be required to wear masks at all times unless you’re at home in your room, eating, or exercising outdoors or in accordance with the guidelines at one of our on-Grounds IM/Rec facilities. And even when you are exercising, you should always keep a mask on hand in case you run into another person.
Finally, we are going to ramp up enforcement of our travel and visitor policies for students, which should be simple to understand and to follow: please do not leave Charlottesville over the next two weeks, and do not invite visitors to come to town. This is to protect people outside this community, as well as to prevent more of the virus from being brought back to Grounds.
Importantly, these masking and gathering guidelines will apply to faculty and staff on-Grounds as well. These new guidelines will officially go into effect tomorrow – Wednesday, Sept. 23 – at 9 a.m.
In addition to these new restrictions, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of maintaining physical distance from other people whenever possible. This includes at bars and restaurants; if you cannot stay six feet from others at a restaurant or bar, do not go in. And speaking of bars, if you are under 21, please do not go in, period. Our medical experts have identified bars as among the highest-risk locations, and we need your help in limiting risk for yourselves, your fellow students and members of our community.
Please understand that these rules are important for your safety and the safety of those around you. We know these additional restrictions will be an added burden, and we do not adopt them lightly. But we are doing what we can to slow down the spread of the virus and increase our chances of remaining on Grounds all fall. We hope and trust you will follow these restrictions, but if need be, we will have no choice but to enforce them. We have already had to issue interim suspensions to several students for intentionally disregarding policies around gatherings, masking and social distancing, and we will be even more vigilant going forward. We will also put in place additional restrictions if necessary. I say this not to alarm you, but to make clear that we will continue to do everything we need to in order to keep people safe and to give students a chance to remain on Grounds this semester.
A few other important things to note:
In-person classes will continue during this two-week period. Classes are obviously a part of our core mission as a University, and we have no evidence that the virus has been transmitted in classrooms.
We’re also going to continue ramping up testing – monitoring the wastewater coming out of dorms, testing random groups of students every day, and very soon, rolling out saliva screening that will allow us to test larger numbers of students at multiple locations across Grounds. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: if you get asked to submit a test, please do so. You won’t get in trouble for testing positive or for providing accurate information to contact tracers.
I still believe we can do this, but it will take everyone’s very best effort. From the very beginning, we have known that this path would be difficult. Some people said we couldn’t do it; some people still have their doubts. But while getting to Thanksgiving is going to be hard, all of you have shown over the last six months that you can do hard things – whether it’s missing graduations and sports seasons, figuring out online classes, or trying to make new friends under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.
I believe this is a challenge we can meet. Please be dedicated about following our health and safety guidelines, encourage the people around you to do the same, and together we will keep this semester on track. We will keep you posted on our progress during these next two weeks, and hopefully at that time we will be able to ease some of the new restrictions we are putting in place today. Thanks, and take care.