The University’s senior leadership team announced Friday in a University-wide email that there will be no changes to the University’s plan to welcome on-Grounds residents Sept. 3 and begin in-person instruction Sept. 8.
The email — authored by University President Jim Ryan, Provost Liz Magill, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs K. Craig Kent — comes just one day after the University’s newly-launched COVID-19 dashboard recorded its highest one-day spike. The tracker, which is updated daily with the number of community members who have tested positive for the virus through U.Va. Health, shows that there have been 67 total positive cases of COVID-19 among students, faculty, staff and contract employees since Aug. 17.
The dashboard does not include positive cases from students who requested tests through the University’s testing vendor, Lets Get Checked. Out of the 16,663 students who submitted test results to the University, 50 have tested positive for COVID-19. Per University guidelines issued last July, students are required to submit a negative test result before returning to Grounds.
University leadership cited several reasons for their decision in the email, including improving conditions locally and in Virginia, knowledge gained from other universities that have opened and encouraging behavior from student-athletes, graduate students and other individuals in Charlottesville over the summer.
The Thomas Jefferson Health District, which comprises Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson counties and the City of Charlottesville, reported 2,372 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 36 new cases Friday. Virginia has a total of 112,446 confirmed cases, 6,732 of which were in the last seven days.
The email also acknowledged individuals and groups across Grounds — such as Student Council and Young Democratic Socialists at U.Va. — who have called on the University to reverse its plans for in-person undergraduate instruction. YDS at U.Va. spearheaded the campaign for a virtual semester — along with 11 other demands to keep students and workers safe — over the summer via a petition that has garnered over 1,100 signatories.
In their statement, Student Council seconded YDS at U.Va.’s platform, stating that the University cannot “in good conscience” resume in-person instruction due to the danger that COVID-19 poses to the Charlottesville community, University students, faculty and staff.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — widely considered to be a U.Va. peer institution — in-person classes were canceled after several COVID-19 outbreaks were reported in the first week of classes. As of Friday, 971 UNC students and 54 employees have tested positive for the virus.
“There are no easy answers here, and there are no risk-free paths,” the email reads. “While we can’t expect to persuade all who disagree, we can tell you that we have listened to all perspectives, have given this a great deal of thought, and are making what we believe is the best decision at this moment in time. And that is the decision to give this our very best effort.”
According to the email, the University has developed more ambitious plans for testing, created additional spaces for isolation and quarantine, and will monitor wastewater coming out of dorms to catch potential outbreaks. Additionally, undergraduate residence halls will be at two-thirds capacity and will house about 4,400 students. The International Residence College and Shea House, as well as the Johnson, Malone and Weedon dorms, will be used as quarantine housing. Still, the group said that they understand that there will be outbreaks in the community and people will get sick.
“This semester will not be easy, as we have said, but the U.Va. community has faced challenges before,” the email said. “Let’s meet this moment, and this extraordinary challenge, together.”
The announcement also acknowledged that changing conditions could lead to increased restrictions and, possibly, a move to online classes and sending students home.