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‘Our margin for error is narrower than the fall’: U.Va. confirms Feb. 1 start of spring semester with modifications

Gatherings will be limited to no more than six people starting Jan. 19 and will continue for at least the first two weeks of the semester

The University community must limit gatherings to six people, along with usual social distancing and face covering guidelines
The University community must limit gatherings to six people, along with usual social distancing and face covering guidelines

The University will move forward with its plan to begin in-person classes Feb. 1, leadership announced in an email update Friday afternoon. The University cites their information on the pandemic and the University’s capacity to combat it, in-person instruction allowing the University to monitor compliance from off-Grounds students and lack of evidence of transmission through the classroom or into the Charlottesville-Albemarle community as reasons for this decision.

The University is limiting gathering sizes to no more than six people beginning Jan. 19 and will enforce the policy for at least the first two weeks of the semester through Feb. 14. The policy does not apply to undergraduate, graduate and professional classes, which will continue as planned. Residence hall move-in will also proceed as planned beginning Jan. 29.

There are currently 160 active cases of COVID-19 in the University community, according to Friday’s University’s COVID dashboard — 86 of these are students. There have been 14 new cases per day on average this week. Last week saw an average of 18 cases per day and a positivity rate of 2.8 percent. 

COVID-19 hospitalizations at U.Va. Health have been increasing since mid-November, with 67 individuals currently hospitalized. On Wednesday, a new daily high of 14 people were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, totaling 67 COVID-19 related hospitalizations at U.Va. Health.

All students who plan to learn on Grounds or live in the area must complete pre-testing before returning to Charlottesville and are required to abide by weekly prevalence testing guidelines. Voluntary saliva testing is also available for University employees.

The update also encouraged students to minimize possible exposure to the virus for at least 14 days before coming back. 

All students who have already returned to Grounds or are living in the Charlottesville-Albemarle region were required to resume weekly testing beginning Jan. 11. Students are required to present their U.Va. IDs upon arrival for asymptomatic prevalence testing.

Students who do not comply with the University’s mandatory testing program will be subject to disciplinary action, such as the denial of in-person or remote participation and access to University programs, activities and facilities — if a student fails to comply repeatedly, they may be subject to suspension, according to the Dec. 14 Return to Grounds update.

“A successful spring semester will require even greater adherence to U.Va. policies around testing, masks, physical distancing and gatherings,” the update said. “If you are unsure of your own ability to abide by these measures, most students have the option to study remotely from home.”

Students who have received a vaccine and those who have already tested positive for COVID-19 are still responsible for following all of the University’s public health guidelines.

The update noted the increased prevalence of the virus in Virginia and most locations nationwide, as well as the threat of mutated, more contagious strains of the virus that have been identified globally. 

“Simply put, our margin for error is narrower than it was in the fall,” the update said.

Last fall, Dean of Students Allen Groves cited a generally positive impression of student compliance with public health guidelines, despite a “slippage” in adherence to gathering limits towards the end of the semester. Students must also comply with Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order requiring individuals to stay at home between midnight and 5 a.m. unless necessary. It also restricts on-premise alcohol sales at bars, restaurants and other establishments after 10 p.m., requiring them to close at midnight

The University delayed the start of the spring semester from Jan. 20 to Feb. 1 in December, also replacing the spring break period with days off dispersed throughout the semester to curb travel to and from Charlottesville.