In a semester unlike any other, students at the University have had to adapt to many changes in the school calendar — this year, students were asked to take their finals from home, but had the option to remain on Grounds only if they intended to stay there until the start of winter break. The University is continuing prevalence testing over the break and requiring that students staying in Charlottesville be tested once a week at the Central Grounds Garage.
“Returning home and staying there until the start of spring term ensures that no one is bringing the virus back to the region or bringing it home to their loved ones by going back and forth,” said Provost Liz Magill and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis in an update.
Students living on Grounds who wanted to stay for finals filled out a housing form communicating their needs, and were allowed to remain in their dorms. The University also offered limited winter break housing for first-years in University Gardens or Lambeth Field apartments, which first-years could apply for via the housing form.
The Housing and Residence Life website states that any student living on Grounds during the break should be prepared for “reduced services” and “increased responsibility for their personal safety.” Some of these reduced services include the closure of dining halls for winter break and reduced mailroom and transportation hours. Students are advised to lock their windows and doors, and to remain aware of their surroundings at all times.
All COVID-19 policies will remain in effect during the fall and winter break for students — including the University’s facial covering policy and a maximum gathering size of 10 — as well as mandatory weekly prevalence testing.
According to an update sent by Magill and Davis, saliva tests are administered on a walk-in basis on weekdays and Sunday afternoons to students in Charlottesville.
“[Testing] has been the exact same, so you just go to the parking garage by Newcomb and get a saliva test. It was super quick and easy,” first-year College student Sona Kataldari said.
3,258 saliva tests were administered from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 according to University spokesperson Wes Hester.
Some students, wary of the distractions taking final exams from home would pose or simply unable to return home, decided to remain in Charlottesville for exams and Thanksgiving.
First-year College student Hareen Karim is one of the handful of these students who decided to stay at the University for her exams. She knew she’d be able to focus better in her dorm than in her house, especially for final exams where silence and focus are required. Her RA also stayed in Charlottesville, and lives in the same hall as Karim.
“I knew that going home, I would get incredibly distracted with my siblings and family, and get consumed in Netflix,” Karim said. “I decided to stay because I have friends in my classes [who stayed] and we study together, so I thought I would stay concentrated better.”
Karim has established a routine with these friends, and says that a typical day means getting up and eating together, and then spending the rest of the day studying. At night, she and her friends hang out and relax, sometimes going for a walk around the Rotunda or watching movies together.
First-year College student Dhruv Rungta also decided to stay in Charlottesville for finals knowing he would “perform better” in a school environment than at his home. He noted how quiet Grounds have been since most students have left for break.
“It is weird because the entire dorm is empty, but I kind of like it,” Rungta said. “It’s very peaceful outside. It’s been a pretty chill experience.”
For third-year College student Julia Ruth Preston, travelling home means almost a full day of driving to get to her hometown of Memphis, Tenn. She said it made more sense “logistically” to stay in Charlottesville for finals and Thanksgiving instead of driving back.
“I’ve found a really good routine for [studying for] exams here in my building,” Preston said. “I’d prefer a classroom, but so would everyone. But it’s been quiet here, which is nice.”
Students who stayed in Charlottesville also found creative ways to spend Thanksgiving — a time usually spent surrounded with family — since they were not allowed to return home.
“It was weird being away from [my family for Thanksgiving], but me and a few friends went out and got Poke, so it was nice because I had my friends with me and we ate together,” Karim said.
Thanksgiving looked different for many families as well, as the Center for Disease Control recommended “postponing travel and staying home” for the holiday season to avoid spreading COVID-19.
“Because this year is so different, my family’s plans were different so it made me feel a little bit better because I wasn’t missing a tradition,” Preston said.
The University’s COVID-19 Tracker shows 60 positive cases from Nov. 29 to Dec. 5 and 54 cases from Dec. 7 to Dec. 14.