University of Virginia officials are again easing COVID-19 related restrictions on student gatherings as the number of virus cases and percentage of positive test results continue to decrease.
As of Friday, students are allowed to gather outdoors in groups of up to 10 people and to eat in groups of four, providing everyone wears masks and stays six feet away from one another. Indoor gatherings remain limited at six people with masks and distancing required.
“As a result of falling case numbers and positivity rates in our community, university leaders and public health experts are ready to ease some COVID-19 restrictions in an effort to make it a little easier for people to live, learn and work here safely and enjoyably,” the announcement signed by top administrators and emailed to students on Thursday reads.
The email was signed by UVa President Jim Ryan, Provost Liz Magill, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Dr. Mitch Rosner, chairman of the UVa Department of Medicine.
“These changes are good news and a direct response to the much-improved conditions at UVa,” the statement reads. “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 easing of restrictions came on the eve of the UVa men’s basketball team exiting the ACC Tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program.
Students have faced a variety of restrictions since starting school Feb. 1. The semester began with a six-person gathering limit, mask mandate and social distancing requirement.
By Feb. 16, nearly 650 students had tested positive for the virus, with a high of 229 cases reported that day alone. That prompted administrators to restrict students to residences except for trips to class, food and work.
Off-Grounds students were prohibited from coming onto the campus except to attend classes.
Students were only allowed to dine in groups of two, recreational facilities were shuttered and libraries were closed with only contactless pickup and drop-off.
According to the UVa COVID tracker, during the 10-day crackdown, COVID-19 cases dropped from a seven-day average of 109 cases per day on Feb. 20 to a seven-day average of 28 daily cases by Feb. 28.
As of Wednesday, UVa had a seven-day average of three new cases per day.
Administrators said the February surge was due to the entire student body’s general noncompliance with restrictions and not directly related to any one event or series of events.
Within 10 days of the lockdown, new cases dropped to 26 in a day and positivity rates for tests also dropped, leading administrators to loosen the restrictions. Students were allowed to gather in sextets, although they could still only dine together in pairs. Libraries and recreation centers also reopened.
“It is critical that we all continue to adhere to all public health measures, including mask requirements, gathering limitations, travel restrictions and physical distancing guidelines, even if you have been vaccinated or have previously contracted the virus,” administrators wrote in the most recent letter.
“The science around whether previous COVID-19 patients or those who have been vaccinated can contract the virus again and spread it to others again is inconclusive,” they wrote. “People who contract COVID-19 may shed the virus for a period of time that extends past the alleviation of symptoms or a positive test.”
The mask and social distance restrictions remain in place for those who have been vaccinated, the administrators said.
“Fellow UVa community members have no way of knowing which people have been vaccinated or have previously tested positive,” the letter states. “Universal adherence will avoid anxiety and potential conflict.”
The administrators “strongly encouraged” students, staff and faculty to “stick to pods or social bubbles and to avoid intermingling groups.”
“While gathering limits do not apply to students living together in a single living arrangement, they apply when any members of a household gather with individuals beyond their living arrangement,” administrators admonished. “In other words, eight people who live together in a house may only gather outdoors with two others who do not live in the house.”
The change also allows members of the UVa community to resume volunteer efforts, providing the organization they serve has a COVID-19 risk mitigation plan.
The changes also follow state guidelines for outdoor sporting events, which limit seating to 30% of venue capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is less.
Students, staff and faculty wishing to be vaccinated must sign up with the Virginia Department of Health and follow eligibility protocols, the message notes.
“Your continued vigilance is the only thing preventing another spike, particularly as we are still learning about new variants and whether people who have been vaccinated can transmit the virus,” the administrators wrote. “After a difficult year and a difficult start to the semester, we are heading in the right direction.”