Friday afternoon, after a week of record-breaking COVID positives at the University of Virginia, the University administration held a virtual town hall for clarifications. The administration attempted to explain the massive spike in COVID-19 cases after calls from students and parents for transparency.
In the meeting, the administration stood by earlier claims that allowing in-person fraternity rush was not the cause for rising cases in Charlottesville. President Ryan attributed this to a combination of “willful violations” and “innocent mistakes”, citing “hundreds of other violations” made by students from various organizations. He also stressed it was not possible to apply uneven restrictions within the student body and that students should not “feed into the villain narrative” by pointing fingers at any particular organization.
In a presentation on state- and district-wide COVID infections, Dr. Mitch Rosner stated cases were widely distributed, with approximately 75% of cases occurring off-grounds.
Dr. Rosner also noted his analysis of case distribution did not “identify a single or even a few dominant sources of transmission”, attributing the spike instead to “numerous small acts of letting our guard down.”
When asked why students were expected to report violations rather than depend on administrative intervention, Dean Groves and Provost Davis said “it takes all of us” and students are “our best source of information.” President Ryan also mentioned an increased presence of ambassadors and UVA police officers on- and off-Grounds to increase compliance with public health safety measures.
Videos posted on UVA Barstool and UVA Chicks of ambassadors taking pictures of large unmasked groups, however, call into question their effectiveness at enforcing these measures. Currently, Mad Bowl is surrounded by a plastic fence around the edges, potentially to hamper similar gatherings.
Regarding mental health, the administration reiterated the necessity of closing shared spaces like gyms. Dean Groves added the University’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) “continues to have open spaces” to support students, contrary to previous claims by students that UVA does not adequately support the student body. Liz Magill urged students to “make that phone call to CAPS” if they feel isolated, while also noting humans are “intensely social creatures” who rely on social interaction. The University did not detail plans to increase mental health resources for students in light of these new restrictions.
It remains to be seen if the University will be able to successfully reduce its COVID cases through the measures it described at the town hall.