With vaccines mandatory for students and expected for faculty and staff, and masks required in public spaces indoors, UVA’s fall semester began with hopes that something approaching normalcy could be sustained, despite the threat posed by the delta variant of the coronavirus.
The Class of 2024 finally received a proper welcome, students returned to the classroom, and 42,982 football fans flocked back to Scott Stadium.
In late August, students sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the Lawn for opening convocation. Two ceremonies were held, one for the incoming Class of 2025 and another for the Class of 2024, which did not receive the traditional welcome last fall because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“I can’t begin to describe how happy I am to see all of you together and in 3D,” said President James E. Ryan (Law ’92). “I have been looking forward to having the chance to speak to the remarkable, historic and already unforgettable Class of 2024.
“Convocation is normally the occasion to welcome brand-new students to the University, which some of you who studied remotely last year are. But most of you were here. To all of you, whether you were here or studying remotely, all I can say is thank you for your compassion, your grace and your resilience last year.”
UVA announced a vaccine mandate for students in May. As of the start of the semester, more than 96 percent of students had been vaccinated. Forty-nine students who failed to meet the vaccine requirement were disenrolled, UVA spokesman Brian Coy told several media outlets. All told, 238 students were not in compliance. But just 49 had enrolled in classes, Coy said, and the others may not have been planning to return.
An additional 335 students were granted exemptions for medical or religious reasons. Another 184 students who planned to get shots after arriving on Grounds were granted temporary waivers.
Vaccinations were a key component of UVA’s strategy of returning to in-person learning and other activities, Ryan said at a town hall in early August.
“We are in a much better and much different position than we were last year, primarily because of the vaccines and the extraordinarily high vaccination rate in our community,” he said. “This means we can return in person to classes, activities, sporting events and research labs as we have been planning to do in the fall semester, with the residential experiences that are at the heart of this university.”
All academic division faculty and staff were expected to be vaccinated, and vaccinations are required for UVA Health employees by Nov. 1. Weekly testing is required for any student or employee who is not fully vaccinated and did not receive an exemption, such as for fully remote work or for having recently had COVID.
Indoor masking is another key element of the plan. With the delta variant of the coronavirus causing surges in cases across the United States and the rest of the world, a temporary masking requirement was put in place in early August and will be reviewed by Oct. 1, officials said. Unvaccinated individuals are required to wear a mask whether indoors or out.
The policy applies to academic and administrative buildings, dining halls, libraries, labs, and recreational facilities, regardless of vaccination status. It does not cover dormitories or private housing.
Masks can come off outdoors at sporting venues, which reopened without capacity limits. At Scott Stadium, masks are required in interior public spaces such as restrooms, suites and elevators.
Social distancing requirements and limits on gathering—in place throughout the 2020–21 academic year—were dropped.
As of Sept. 8, there were 165 active cases on Grounds, 120 of them among students. There had been 283 total cases in the fall semester.
UVA reported 1,949 cases in the spring 2021 semester. The weekly peak occurred in February with a 7-day average of 113 new cases.