University of Virginia students are returning to Grounds over the next few days, just in time for classes to kick off on Monday.
Students began showing up Wednesday but most will have access to dormitories on Thursday and Friday with the majority of students expected to return over the weekend, UVa officials said.
The return comes after COVID cases in the area, and the percentage of tests with positive results, have seen a steady decline from a high of 10.6% positive on Jan. 6 to 5.2% on Wednesday.
Students returning to dormitories and those who live off Grounds are required to have negative results from pre-arrival COVID tests and will undergo weekly testing for the virus during the term, officials said.
UVa President Jim Ryan announced the return to Grounds would go as planned in a written statement and video message to students last week. Officials said on Wednesday that the school remains “on track” for a Monday opening.
The university’s administrators and health officials are holding a virtual town hall Thursday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. to discuss the coming semester. The event is open to the community. Registration is available on the UVa Return to Grounds website via a Zoom link in the body of the spring 2021 update.
In his statements last week, Ryan said he felt comfortable opening classes for in-person learning after a fall semester saw no transmission of COVID-19 between students and faculty, staff or members of the local community.
He said students were good at following social distancing guidelines and wearing masks, although there were a few reports during the fall semester of violations of anti-virus regulations.
“We learned a great deal about this and we’re in a much stronger position to respond to the virus,” Ryan said in a Jan. 19 video statement to students. “We can now perform thousands of tests per day and we will be requiring every student to get tested once a week. We’re also making regular testing available to our faculty and staff.”
Ryan said the university has added isolation and quarantine space for students who test positive and that students and staff have more experience with following and enforcing health and safety protocols.
UVa is limiting on-Grounds gatherings to six people, with exceptions for classes and school functions. The limit, which is lower than the 10-person gathering limit set by Gov. Ralph Northam, will be in effect for the first two weeks of the semester and could be extended.
Masks and physical distancing also are required and the university has placed restrictions on travel, visitors and some events.
Students will not be immediately eligible for the COVID vaccination but will need to go through the same procedures as others in the community, officials said. That includes filing with the Blue Ridge Health District to determine at what phase they will be eligible for the vaccine and when to schedule vaccinations.
“Please do not schedule a vaccine appointment unless you have received an email directly from [the health department] or UVa that it is your time to schedule an appointment. You will be turned away from the vaccine clinic if you are not eligible for a vaccine at this time,” officials told students in a Jan. 21 message.
“It’s going to take time to vaccinate everyone,” Ryan said in his videotaped message to students. “It remains incredibly important for everyone to keep following health and safety measures, especially mask wearing and social distancing in public, even if you’ve had COVID or received the vaccine.”