The University increased its outdoor gathering limit to 10 individuals following declining case counts and positivity rates in the last several weeks, according to a Spring 2021 Update email sent Thursday. The gathering limit for indoor events will remain at six. The update email was issued by University President Jim Ryan, Provost Liz Magill, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Department of Medicine Chair Mitch Rosner.
Despite the relaxed restrictions, University leadership warned that it is still just as important for University community members to continue following masking requirements, social distancing guidelines, gathering limitations and travel restrictions — even if one has been vaccinated for the virus.
“These changes are good news and a direct response to the much-improved conditions at U.Va.,” the email said. “They are not a sign, however, that we are completely out of the woods. The threat of another spike in cases remains real, and if trends worsen, we will have to impose more strict public health measures again.”
The University originally implemented a six-person gathering limit at the start of the spring semester, but after seeing a sharp increase in cases during the third week of classes, it banned all in-person gatherings for a 10-day period starting Feb. 16. Since the restriction was lifted Feb. 26, cases within the University community have steadily declined, with 18 cases reported Monday through Wednesday.
University leadership clarified that the gathering limit does not apply to individuals who live together in a single living arrangement, but does apply if members of the same household interact with those outside of their arrangement. For example, eight individuals living in the same household may only gather outdoors with two others.
Beginning Friday, U.Va. Dining facilities will also begin to operate at 30 percent capacity and students may sit together in groups of four, an increase from the previous limit of two.
Provided that organizations have a COVID-19 mitigation plan in place, students, faculty and staff are also permitted to volunteer with groups operating within the Blue Ridge Health District. Previously, the University limited volunteer activity to vaccinated individuals volunteering as emergency medical technicians or firefighters.
The University will also increase the capacity of outdoor sporting events in accordance with a new executive order from Governor Ralph Northam, which allows the total number of spectators to be at either 30 percent of the venue’s occupancy or 1,000 people, whichever is less. Virginia’s previous limit on outdoor sporting events only allowed 250 spectators.
The Blue Ridge Health District has received over 3,000 vaccine doses and also received its first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. According to the email, the BRHD expects a significant increase in vaccine doses by the end of April. In a Board of Visitors meeting Feb. 4, U.Va. Health said it expects the general population of the BRHD to be vaccinated by the end of May.
Thursday marked one year from the day the University extended spring break and announced the suspension of in-person instruction, which University leadership commemorated in the email by praising the patience and compassion of University students, faculty and staff.
“As we look back on year one of this pandemic, year two begins with real reasons for optimism,” the Thursday email said. “Warmer weather has arrived, more people are receiving vaccines, and cases in our community and across the country are falling from concerning peaks.”