Return to Normalcy Remains Unclear

Friday morning, University President Jim Ryan announced an easing of enhanced public health measures put in place on Feb. 16. Students are now permitted to gather in groups limited to 6 individuals, and University facilities will reopen with the same operational status implemented at the start of the semester.

The temporary restrictions were enforced in response to an alarming surge in student Covid-19 positive cases at the onset of spring semester, rendering the prospect of returning to normalcy next fall semester uncertain. After nearly a full month of spring semester classes, the number of students testing positive for Covid-19 had already surpassed the fall semester’s cumulative 1,176 Covid-19 positive cases. According to the UVA Covid Tracker, as of Thursday Feb. 25, 1,320 students have tested positive for Covid-19.

While the temporary lockdown has been rolled back, President Ryan said “it would be a mistake to interpret [the news] as a sign that we are out of the woods”. He cited “minor lapses” of small groups of students removing their masks to eat together indoors and encouraged students to “remain vigilant” while following public health measures..

Previously at the Feb. 19 Town Hall, Provost Liz Magill expressed optimism that the University will be able to return to fully in person instruction next fall and is already well into preparations to facilitate fully in-person summer classes.

The possibility of returning to normal, in-person instruction soon contrasts Dean Groves’ clarifications on the now-lifted “no in-person gathering” policy. In Dean Groves’ Feb. 17 email regarding the restrictions, he clarified that two students walking together “to class” or to “obtain food” is permitted provided both students are “masked and physically distanced by at least six feet.”

Dean Groves also advised students to not seek out local gyms “given that our own IM-REC facilities are currently restricted from use.”  He added that  students who have already tested positive for Covid-19 and recovered  should err on the side of caution, emphasizing that having had COVID “doesn’t excuse you from continuing to adhere to masking, social distancing, gathering limits and testing requirements.” 

Given the need for the majority of the student body to strictly abide by public health and safety protocols, it remains to be seen if in-person instruction will indeed return soon.


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