Following a weekend of students partying during the annual midsummers celebration at the University — many without masks and disregarding social distancing guidelines — Dean of Students Allen Groves sent an email to undergraduate students Tuesday evening condemning the social gatherings in Corner bars, rental houses and apartments and fraternity houses. He affirmed that in-person courses on Grounds will only be possible in the fall if students commit to observing social distancing and wearing masks.
The University has detailed plans for a hybrid fall semester involving a mix of in-person and online classes, but those plans are subject to change if an outbreak among the student body occurs, Groves said.
“All of this will come to nothing if reckless behavior as was seen this past weekend continues,” he wrote. “If such behavior continues, we will not make it long into the fall semester before a significant outbreak occurs and we then need to send students home. That's the self-interested motivation to do better.”
The email was sent in response to multiple student gatherings observed by peers and Charlottesville community members who voiced their concerns on social media and to University administration. Midsummers have traditionally occurred on the weekend between the second and third summer sessions and normally involves a large number of students returning to Grounds to celebrate.
However, daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Virginia have been on the rise after a steady decline in June, leading to an increased sense of fear for the health and safety of others, including Charlottesville residents, students, faculty and staff — particularly those with less financial resources.
Several photos shared online of the gatherings depict large gatherings of students — few of whom were wearing masks. Groves acknowledged some of the common arguments made by students who have chosen to forgo precautions against COVID-19.
“I've heard that a few students have defended this behavior by arguing that as young, healthy adults, you are not at risk of contracting any serious health conditions even if you test positive for COVID-19,” Groves wrote. “To be clear, such an argument should be seen by each of us as repugnant to any idea of fundamental decency towards our fellow citizens. The idea that choosing to forgo wearing a facial mask is a mark of vigor, health or vitality is — to be blunt — selfish and ignorant.”
Groves implored students to wear masks — a precaution recommended by the CDC to slow the spread of COVID-19. Cloth face masks limit the spread of water droplets containing the virus, which can originate even from members of the community who are currently asymptomatic.
Because of the potential for asymptomatic spread, the CDC considers masks a crucial step in preventing the spread of the disease, especially in scenarios such as the midsummers celebration during which people are unable to stay six feet apart.
Groves ended his email with a call for students to change their behavior, making it clear that in-person courses could not be sustained in the fall if students did not socially distance and wear masks.
“Please recommit to observing social distancing and wearing masks when in the company of others with whom you do not share a home,” Groves wrote. “Failure to do so places the most vulnerable at significant risk and will likely lead to an end to on-Grounds education this fall.”