Dusk on the Lawn Sanjay Suchak

Citing improved coronavirus prevalence numbers locally and across the state, a strengthened testing supply chain, and a successful summer dry-run in which thousands of students returned to Grounds without causing an unmanageable spike in cases, the University of Virginia is moving forward with plans to begin in-person instruction Sept. 8.

In announcing the decision Aug. 28, senior leadership acknowledged that not everyone agrees with the call, and that, inevitably, some will contract the virus—possibly in numbers that will require a reversal of course, as has happened at other schools.

The benefits of in-person instruction, however, make the effort that goes into returning worth it, President James E. Ryan (Law ’92) and his three executive vice presidents—Provost M. Elizabeth “Liz” Magill (Law ’95), healthy system head Craig Kent and COO Jennifer “J.J.” Wagner Davis said in making the announcement.

“Some critical parts of a college education cannot be replicated online,” they said.

Virginia earlier this month delayed the start of in-person classes by two weeks. The University has learned from the lessons of outbreaks at other schools, and has ramped up testing plans, created additional spaces for quarantine and isolation, and focused on communicating “behavioral expectations” to students, the announcement said.

Most outbreaks elsewhere have been tied to off-campus gatherings, not to on-campus housing and classrooms, the leaders said. Moving classes entirely online would not address those problems, they said.

“Indeed, our public health experts believe that classrooms are very low-risk environments,” the statement said.

Having students on Grounds, with testing in place and public health measures enforced, will put officials in a better position to contain any outbreaks, the leaders said.

Roughly 15,000 students are already in town, and the vast majority are following protocols that require social distancing and wearing face coverings, the leaders said. Even so, a “slight” expected and manageable uptick in cases has occurred, they said. As of Monday, August 31, the University’s Covid Tracker reported 115 total cases, with 83 of them students. The tracker does not include results of students who tested at home before returning to Grounds. Of 16,663 tests given, 50 were positive.

Earlier in August, Dean of Students Allen W. Groves (Law ’90) released a video urging students to follow the health precautions regarding face-coverings and gatherings, and outlining the consequences for failing to do so—including immediate suspension for at least a semester.

Ryan and his executive vice presidents emphasized that they care for the health and safety of the community at large. The decision to re-open was “extremely difficult” and only reached after considering all perspectives, they stressed.

“One thing we have learned from this virus is that you can do everything in your power to plan and prepare, and it still might not be enough, as things can change rapidly. That is why we will continue to monitor conditions closely and, if necessary, send students home.”

Here are updates of how life on Grounds will look:

Public Health

  • Students, faculty, staff and UVA Health employees are required to complete a health check through an app every day that they will be on Grounds or working in a UVA Health facility.
  • The Covid Tracker, launched last week, will up be updated daily, Monday through Friday.
  • Gatherings will be limited to 15 people or fewer.
  • Asymptomatic testing will be offered to faculty and staff in the academic division and contracted workers on a limited, first-come, first-served basis.

Student Life

  • Fraternities and sororities have suspended in-person activities.

To allow for social distancing, dormitories will be two-thirds full, housing approximately 4,400 students. Wastewater at dorms will be monitored for the presence of the coronavirus. If there is evidence of an outbreak, everyone in the dorm will be tested.