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U.Va. reinforces request for students to leave Grounds immediately

Officials note that students gathering in public can be detrimental to residents of the Charlottesville community

Lampkin issued an email to parents and guardians of students after a number of students gathered on the Corner Thursday evening.
Lampkin issued an email to parents and guardians of students after a number of students gathered on the Corner Thursday evening.

Patricia Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer, issued an email statement Friday night asking that parents and guardians of University students enforce the University’s request that all students return home if possible — particularly students who live off-Grounds and expressed a desire to remain in Charlottesville.

The University announced Wednesday that it would be transitioning to remote, online learning beginning March 19 through at least April 5. University President Jim Ryan strongly encouraged students to leave Grounds, in order to protect the community from the spread of COVID-19. The announcement also cancelled all University events involving gatherings of over 100 people.

Student Financial Services will be offering assistance to students on financial aid who need help returning home. Students in need can submit a request by filling out the electronic form on the SFS website. 

However, students who are unable to leave Charlottesville for unavoidable reasons are able to stay, and the University will remain open. Additionally, Dean of Students Allen Groves announced in a follow-up email Friday night that any student who travels a great distance to leave Grounds but is unable to return if in-person classes resume will receive assistance to complete the term regardless.

Despite the request to leave Grounds, students continued to gather on the Corner Thursday night. In light of persisting socializing, and in anticipation of additional gatherings this weekend, Lampkin said in the statement to guardians that students must “understand the dangers posed by COVID-19.”

“While they may not become sick or may suffer only mild symptoms, they could potentially infect residents in the local community who could contract the disease and become acutely ill,” Lampkin said.

The Centers for Disease Control states that those most at risk for severe illness due to COVID-19 are older adults and people with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or lung disease. The virus is mainly thought to be transmitted by person-to-person interaction by individuals within six feet of one another, and through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes.

As of Friday night, there are 30 presumptive positive and confirmed cases in the Commonwealth. Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency Thursday, urging citizens to take precautionary measures to avoid spreading the virus, such as avoiding large gatherings and airplane travel. The family of a student at St. Anne’s-Belfield private school in Albemarle County was reported Friday to be presumed positive for COVID-19 based on symptoms and domestic travel history.

Experts have found that social distancing is one of the best ways to prevent viral spread. By avoiding crowds and maintaining personal space, community members can help delay the spread of disease and reduce the number of individuals infected, which eases the burden on healthcare facilities. Lampkin noted that students’ return home is significant to ensuring that the U.Va. Health System does not become overwhelmed.

“We believe the fewer students in Charlottesville right now, the better for our health system and, thus, for the health and welfare of everyone in the region,” Lampkin wrote.

Gay Perez, assistant vice president of student affairs and executive director of Housing and Residence Life, released an email to students living in on-Grounds housing, asking that they gather essential belongings and return home. 

Students were asked to fill out a survey if unavoidable circumstances require them to remain in Charlottesville. After March 18 at 12 p.m., students who have not filled out the survey will lose access to on-Grounds housing.

“We understand circumstances may not allow every student to go home,” Perez wrote. “As a result, on-Grounds housing will remain open for those students who cannot go home. If you are unable to leave for unavoidable circumstances, please understand you may be quarantined or relocated should circumstances make this necessary.”

A Financial Resource Working Group is looking into offsetting dining and housing costs for students as a result of the operational changes, according to a community announcement from Provost Liz Magill that was sent Thursday night.

In the statement to guardians, Lampkin stated that students in on-Grounds housing should have a friend or housing staff member retrieve their belongings, rather than return to Charlottesville themselves. She added that students who live off-Grounds and need help collecting essentials may contact their landlords, or the Office of the Dean of Students if they encounter difficulty contacting landlords directly.

Groves relayed similar information in his announcement, adding that students should check leases and, if necessary, notify landlords of their extended absence.

Correction: This article previously misstated that a local family was tested presumptive positive and has been updated to reflect that the diagnosis has not been confirmed with testing.