The University of Virginia will ban food and drink from sports events and other school and student activities to keep people in attendance from removing their masks, officials announced on Friday.
The decision comes five days before the start of UVa’s spring semester. Officials reiterated requirements that students, staff and faculty receive booster shots by Friday or as soon after the deadline as possible.
“In order to limit opportunities for the virus to spread in crowded settings, we will begin the semester with a temporary prohibition on food and beverages at university and student organization-related events held on and off Grounds, including athletics competitions,” school administrators said in an email bulletin to the university community on Friday.
The bulletin was signed by UVa Provost Liz Magill and J.J. Davis, UVa chief operating officer.
“This policy, which will be in effect from Jan. 17 to Feb. 4, will help ensure that all people who attend these events are wearing masks the entire time they are around others,” they wrote. “During this temporary window, we strongly encourage university community members to avoid organizing or attending large indoor events, especially ones where enforcing a mask mandate will be difficult and/or the vaccination status of the crowd is unknown. We are also asking that you conduct events virtually or outdoors, if at all possible.”
Officials also adjusted the university’s isolation and quarantine protocols to align with recently released recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those protocols allow anyone with current vaccination and booster shots and testing positive for COVID-19 to isolate for five days rather than 10 so long as they’re free of symptoms or the symptoms are abating.
Those with up-to-date vaccinations who are exposed to someone with COVID-19 will no longer need to quarantine, but should wear masks around others for 10 days and get tested five days after exposure.
The administrators said they expect more people will contract COVID-19 in the spring semester because the omicron variant propelling the current COVID surge is so easy to catch.
“Given the contagiousness of omicron, it is likely that many members of our community will contract a mild case of COVID-19 this semester,” Davis and Magill wrote. “While we will all continue to do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus, the risks of serious illness for vaccinated, boosted and healthy people have never been lower, particularly in relation to the risks for the unvaccinated or those who have chronic conditions.”
Officials also are asking any on-Grounds students who contract COVID to return to their homes, if possible, for their isolation period. They said the likelihood of more cases could mean a shortage of isolation and quarantine space set aside for students.
“As a result of those space limitations and the likelihood that omicron will cause more mild infections than we saw last semester, we are asking on-Grounds students who test positive to isolate at home if possible, provided they can travel there safely and do not live with someone who is at high risk of more serious infection,” Magill and Davis wrote. “This approach will allow the university to maintain as much isolation space as possible for on-Grounds students who are unable to travel home or who live with someone who is more vulnerable.”
The officials said the university’s current indoor mask requirement will stay in place.
“We strongly encourage all members of our community to wear a mask whenever you’re indoors around other people, whether you’re on university property or not,” Davis and Magill wrote. “This is particularly important in spaces around the Charlottesville community, like grocery stores, other shops, and indoor public venues.”