The University is offering all students a COVID-19 test ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday this year, regardless of whether they live on- or off-Grounds. Additionally, students are asked to not return to Grounds after the break and to instead take finals at home, one of several changes the University made this year to discourage travel in the hopes of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
In the latest Return to Grounds update Nov. 5, University Provost Liz Magill, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Medicine Department Chair Mitch Rosner detailed the University’s departure testing plans and other advice for students planning to return home.
“We are on track to end the fall semester in a good position related to COVID-19,” the email read. “This could change quickly, as we have seen with recent trends nationally. We strongly believe that robust pre-departure testing is a key to keeping us on the right track and helping make the Thanksgiving break as safe as possible for our University community, our neighbors and our families.”
The Thanksgiving recess begins Nov. 25 and ends Nov. 29, with final exams administered entirely online from Dec. 2 to Dec. 11. The University hopes students will not return to Grounds until the spring semester starts Feb. 1 due to this year’s extended winter break. J-term courses will also be taught entirely online Jan. 4 to Jan. 15, the cost of which is covered for all full-time, undergraduate students by their fall tuition.
The University will continue offering asymptomatic prevalence testing for students living both on- and off-Grounds, and all students will receive an email for a mandatory appointment by early next week. Students are tested using nasal swabs and through the University’s saliva screening program, which was established in early October. On-Grounds students will continue to be tested every nine days until Nov. 20, while off-Grounds students will be selected for testing through the University’s asymptomatic testing program.
Students who receive an early test appointment and would like to get tested again before going home can do so free of charge by either requesting a test through Let’s Get Checked or visiting the Central Grounds Parking Garage between Nov. 8 and Nov. 24, where saliva screening will take place during designated walk-in time slots. According to University Spokesperson Brian Coy, the University is planning to process around 1,000 to 1,500 tests per day for students.
“Our plan is to offer a test to all students prior to Thanksgiving,” Coy said.
The University will also increase testing for employees. Currently, asymptomatic faculty, staff and non-employee postdoctoral fellows can request tests through Let’s Get Checked, while part-time and contracted workers can request a free kit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
If students test positive for COVID-19 before leaving Charlottesville for break, they must follow the University’s protocols for isolation — isolating from others for 10 days after the onset of symptoms or a positive test result. The University recommends that all students have a plan as to where they can quarantine over break, and it will continue to offer isolation spaces for those living in University housing.
First-year College student Rachel Tiller said she will only be doing the mandatory test given by the University before she goes home to Richmond for Thanksgiving and said she had no plans to quarantine before or after traveling if her test is negative.
“I feel safe traveling home for break from dorms,” Tiller said. “I stay safe in the dorms and only hang out with people from my dorm.”
Students living on Grounds who are leaving for Thanksgiving are instructed to leave their housing by Nov. 24, but first-year residences will officially close Dec. 12 –– the end of the final exam period. These on-Grounds residents are not permitted to return until housing for the spring semester reopens around Feb. 1. Upperclass housing will remain open throughout the break.
The University acknowledges that some students may not be able to travel home for the break. Students with unstable housing conditions or difficulties traveling home can indicate their need on the winter break and spring housing form within the University Housing Portal before Nov. 12. First-year residence areas will remain closed until the spring semester, but winter break housing will be offered in University Gardens and Lambeth Field Apartments for first years who must remain on Grounds.
Housing and Residence Life is still in the process of determining resident advisor coverage for the break. Typically, at least one RA is required to stay per residence area until after the completion of finals. Due to the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, however, Coy said that these requirements are being relaxed so RAs do not feel as pressured to return after Thanksgiving, as residence halls will remain open until the end of exams. Coy stated this will limit potential spread of coronavirus from back-and-forth travel.
Students living off Grounds, however, are deciding whether or not to come back to Charlottesville after leaving for Thanksgiving to take online exams.
Second-year College student Pilar Grover will be traveling home to Chicago before Thanksgiving. She said she feels comfortable traveling since she has been following University guidelines but might take an additional COVID-19 test when she gets home, just to be safe.
“I’m making sure I’m being super careful while I’m here before I fly to Chicago but not necessarily quarantining,” Grover said.
Grover said she is not coming back to her off-Grounds apartment after Thanksgiving for finals and will be fine taking them at home.
The University is not enforcing quarantine practices before students go home for winter break or before students return to Grounds for the spring semester. Ahead of the fall semester, the University asked students to quarantine for two weeks before arriving in Charlottesville.
“We recommend that students take extra precautions between now and Thanksgiving in order to fully ensure that [they] do not bring the virus home to loved ones over break,” Coy said.
However, third-year Engineering student Daniel Dereberry, said he will most likely return to Charlottesville from Northern Virginia for finals.
“I want to come back for finals since over the last few months I’ve established a particular level of comfort with my workspace and setup in my Charlottesville apartment,” Dereberry said. “If I’m home for finals, I will be in a less familiar workspace and won’t perform as well, especially with distractions from family members.”
Coy did not specify that the University would be taking any action against students who come back to Charlottesville for finals, but the University hopes they remain at home.
“We strongly recommend that all students return to their home communities over break and wait until the beginning of the next term to return to Charlottesville,” Coy said.