Last Tuesday, President Jim Ryan shared a video on social media in which he detailed several changes to the University’s COVID-19 policy. It was not until two days later, however, that students were notified of the changes via email. The new restrictions most notably limit student gatherings to five people and request students to not travel to and from Charlottesville for the next two weeks, likely in response to several outbreaks in at least five on-Grounds residential halls since reopening dorms. This announcement came the week before the deadline for a student to withdraw from the University and still receive any reimbursement for tuition and fees.
The University has continuously promised us clear and regular communication regarding COVID-19 policy and changes to it. Yet, the most recent policy changes went into effect Sept. 23 at 9 a.m. — about 24 hours before the University decided to notify all community members via email. Further, just days after the guidelines went into effect, the University welcomed the Duke football team, as well as the families of the players of both teams, to Charlottesville for the first home game of the season. It seems rather hypocritical that the University would impose a five-person limit on all gatherings for nearly everyone except its athletics department and most lucrative team — which made $106 million in the 2017-2018 season. The University has made its position clear — money over lives.
If the new guidelines tell us anything, it is that being on Grounds is a threat to public health. Despite climbing cases and increased restrictions, the University is still inviting students back to Grounds — notifying students who opted to remain home this semester that they can still reverse their decision until Sept. 30. It makes absolutely no sense to further restrict students already here while continuing to invite more back.
The University has neglected to cancel in-person classes and athletic events despite the proven risks they pose to our community. With at least 720 positive cases of COVID-19 in the University community since mid-August, it’s clear that bringing students back to Grounds has been an active threat to public health for students and Charlottesville. The outbreaks on Grounds have halted any potential for students to have the “college experience” that the administration deemed so valuable in its decision to bring students back during a pandemic.
It was obvious from the very beginning that this semester would be unlike any other in U.Va. history. We knew these outbreaks were coming, yet the University carried on. It was disingenuous for administration to pretend otherwise, and it is nothing short of overtly dangerous for them to keep up the facade. The college experience they are trying so desperately to preserve is gone.
It is only a matter of time before University community members begin to face complications from COVID-19, many of which will result in more serious illness or long-term disability. If and when a community member dies from COVID-19 or its resulting complications, the University will be forced to ask itself if the financial motivations behind bringing students back to Grounds were worth the loss of lives.
In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Ryan stated that the University is not focused on the number of positive COVID-19 cases but rather a combination of factors including hospital and quarantine housing capacity. This alone demonstrates the administration’s dangerous optimism when lives are at stake and their clear lack of planning or preparation for what is to come. While Ryan may not have a target number of cases or deaths to warrant a shutdown, it is clear when enough is enough. The University should not let it get that bad.
The bottom line is that the University is making closed-door decisions without informing students in a timely or consistent manner. Students and employees of the University have a right to know how decisions are being made that will directly affect their livelihood and ability to sustain themselves. The University needs to be transparent with all of its planning and protocol should we continue to see a rise in cases. Hopefully — next time — they will at least have the common courtesy to send an email beforehand.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, their Senior Associate and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at email@example.com.