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University bans in-person gatherings, urges students to remain at home

The University’s COVID-19 tracker reported 121 cases Monday, a new daily high

In-person classes, however, will continue with additional safety measures to limit congregations before and after class in common spaces.
In-person classes, however, will continue with additional safety measures to limit congregations before and after class in common spaces.

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The University banned all in-person gatherings and urged students living on and off Grounds to restrict movement outside residences to essential activities in a University-wide email Tuesday afternoon. The announcement comes following a “troubling” increase in COVID-19 cases and the spread of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of the virus. The policy will go into effect Tuesday at 7 p.m. and will be reevaluated Feb. 26.

The University’s COVID-19 tracker reported 121 new cases Monday — the largest ever single-day count. The new record comes after 108 cases were recorded Thursday through Sunday — the previous record was Sept. 17, which saw 59 cases following a testing backlog. 

The University also confirmed the presence of the U.K. variant in the University community and extended its six-person gathering limit indefinitely in its Return to Grounds Update Friday. The University has not confirmed the number of positive cases associated with the U.K. variant, though the University monitors a number of viral indicators through its testing protocols. 

“Since we communicated those concerns on Friday, we have seen an additional — and unusually large — increase in positive cases, spread widely both on and off Grounds,” the email said. “Our in-house analysis indicates that this spread is not directly related to variants but instead to transmission of the original strain of the virus, which can occur when individuals are not closely following health and safety protocols.”

All in-person events and gatherings both on and off Grounds are prohibited and should be moved online — this includes club functions, social gatherings and all other events that do not meet the criteria outlined in the University’s policy SEC-045. A gathering is defined as a “convening that brings together multiple people from separate households in a single space, indoors or outdoors, at the same time for a common purpose to conduct University business or student activity.” 

In-person classes, however, will continue with additional safety measures to limit congregations before and after class in common spaces. 27 percent of classes currently offer an in-person component, and University administrators told The Cavalier Daily that there was no evidence of transmission within classroom environments last semester. If cases continue to rise, however, the University said it would consider moving all undergraduate classes online. 

“We are preserving masked, safely distanced in-person classes because teaching is a core part of the mission of our University, and we have not seen evidence of viral transmission in classroom settings,” the email said.

Students living on Grounds may only leave their residence halls for essential activities — these include attending an in-person class, eating or picking up meals from on Grounds locations, engaging in individual outdoor activities, receiving a COVID-19 test or other medical care, going to a job, picking up mail and going to U.Va. Bookstore for essential personal items. Volunteer activities are not included under these essential activities. 

Students living off Grounds are encouraged to remain at home and limit contact with others outside their living arrangement. Off Grounds students are only permitted to come onto Grounds to attend an in-person class, eat or pick up meals from a dining hall, go to a job or receive a COVID-19 test or other medical care. 

Recreational facilities will close at their designated times tonight and will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Dining locations will be open, with pick-up options available, but in-person seating will be limited to no more than 2 people at a table. For staff and students who work in closed locations, employment status and pay will not be interrupted. 

The email acknowledged that students are likely “tired” of fighting the pandemic, but urged students to take restrictions seriously.

“This is crunch time,” the email said. “If individual members of this community take this seriously for the next 10 days, we will see a decline in cases and a return to a more “normal” spring semester. The alternative is additional consequences, not only for the type of semester we have as a university, but potentially for the health and safety of the people who live, learn, and work at and around U.Va.”

Following Monday’s spike, there are now 731 total cases in the University community, 376 of which are active. 364 active cases are students, while 12 are faculty and staff.

24 percent of quarantine space is currently occupied — an increase of one percent from over the weekend — and the University added 200 new quarantine beds Monday. 19 percent of isolation space is currently occupied.

U.Va. Health admitted five new patients yesterday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at the hospital to 41.

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