On Tuesday, University President Jim Ryan announced new on-Grounds coronavirus restrictions in a video message addressed to the student body. The new policy limits gatherings to five people or fewer, down from a previous cap of 15. All students, faculty, and staff will be required to wear masks at all times unless at home, eating, or exercising. Students are also asked not to leave Charlottesville for at least the next two weeks, and not to invite visitors to come to the area.
Ryan provided an overview of the new limits and said that additional measures might prove necessary if the University risks running out of isolation or quarantine spaces.
“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,” Ryan said. “If this new limit is not respected, we may have to consider additional restrictions, including curfews … 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.”
Ryan’s announcement arrived after an uptick in positive coronavirus tests in the community and reports of a few large student gatherings. As of Sept. 22, the UVA COVID-19 Tracker reports over 200 active cases among faculty, staff, students, and contract employees, for a total of 569 since mid-August. The University previously announced Balz-Dobie, Lefevre, Echols and Kellogg residence halls exhibited signs of infection in their wastewater.
In-person classes will continue during the two-week period, and Ryan expressed his confidence that the University will adapt to the new limits.
“I still believe we can do this, but it will take everyone’s very best effort,” Ryan said. “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.”
He identified bars as a particularly risky destination that students should avoid.
“In addition to these new restrictions, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of maintaining physical distance from other people whenever possible,” Ryan said. “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.”
The University will also ramp up its testing initiative by continuing to monitor the wastewater coming out of dorms, testing random groups of students every day, and introducing saliva screening. If asked to submit a test, the University urges students to do so as soon as possible. Ryan stressed that no one will get in trouble for testing positive or for providing accurate information to contact tracers.
Ryan promised to update the student body, faculty, and staff on any additional limits.