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UVA tightens Covid rules as cases rise

Colonnade above Lambeth Field
Sanjay Suchak

Three weeks after students moved back onto Grounds and two weeks after UVA began holding in-person classes, President James E. Ryan (Law ’92) imposed stricter COVID-19-mitigation restrictions including smaller gathering limits, universal masking and no travel outside of Charlottesville.

In a video message to the University community on September 22, Ryan cited rising case numbers and reports of large student gatherings for the restrictions, which were initially set to last for two weeks and were then extended for two more. In-person classes haven’t been shown to be spreading the virus, Ryan said, and will continue.

UVA has been following a hybrid format with most classes taking place virtually and only some in the classroom, all scheduled to end November 24 as part of an abbreviated semester. Exams will take place in December online.

Gatherings, which had been limited to 15 people, now can’t exceed five. Ryan also said that if students don’t adhere to the new limit, the administration will consider further restrictions, such as curfews.

Students, faculty and staff on Grounds must also wear masks whenever they’re not in their homes, eating or exercising outdoors. Ryan also asked students not to leave Charlottesville or invite any visitors from out of town during the restrictions.

Ryan made particular note of social distancing in bars and restaurants in his statement: “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.”

In the days leading up to the new restrictions, students in several dorms, including Balz-Dobie, Echols, Lefevre, Kellogg and Hancock houses, were tested for COVID-19 after wastewater monitoring and other testing showed evidence of the virus. In a mid-September interview with Virginia Magazine, Ryan pointed up the early-alert advantage of that type of monitoring and testing.

“So rather than waiting to see if five cases becomes 10 becomes 25 becomes 40, this is a way of trying to get ahead of it, and if there are additional cases, to get those students into isolation and quarantine,” he said.

According to the University’s COVID tracker, there were 913 total cases of COVID-19 at UVA as of October 6, 828 of them students.