University of Virginia officials on Tuesday banned all in-person events and gatherings on and off Grounds and shuttered recreational centers, citing a sudden surge in student COVID-19 cases related to failure to follow health guidelines.
Administrators noted the arrival of the more contagious U.K. variant of the virus on Grounds in announcing the restrictions, which took effect Tuesday at 7 p.m. They will be in effect until Feb. 26.
The move came as 121 new cases were reported Monday, 117 of which were among students. That’s the highest daily new case count since Feb. 8, when 56 cases were reported among the student body of a total of 58 in the UVa community.
Nearly 25% of the school’s quarantine capacity was full, despite beds being added on Monday. Nearly 20% of the school’s isolation beds were full as of Tuesday, officials said.
On Friday, UVa officials announced that the more contagious U.K. variant had been identified on Grounds, which increased concern that cases could spike.
“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,” a letter to the UVa community sent by the school’s top administrators 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,” the email reads.
The letter is signed by UVa President Jim Ryan, Provost Liz Magill, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Dr. K. Craig Kent, executive vice president for health affairs.
The restrictions and the surge came as multiple social media posts reported parties among university students as part of fraternity rush, which began Feb. 1 and ended with bid day on Feb. 14.
Posts on most social media, including Twitter and Reddit, included numerous posts complaining of large gatherings that the posters believed were rush-related.
The university’s Inter-Fraternity Council, or IFC, allowed some in-person events during rush, but required that the events meet social distancing guidelines and community and UVa regulations.
“We believe it is unfair to place stricter restrictions on our chapters than those of the university, city, and state, and it is detrimental to [potential new members], especially those from diverse backgrounds, to have no opportunities for in-person interactions with active fraternity members,” the IFC’s finalized rush plans, emailed to members prior to rush, state.
“We fully understand the concern of many individuals that this may lead to certain chapters breaking mandated COVID rules, but we believe it is absolutely crucial that [potential new members] participating in IFC rush have the ability to have some in-person contact with active fraternity members to ensure they make the right decision for who they will be spending a significant portion of their time at UVa with,” the plans state.
Although the in-person events were supposed to meet guidelines, including UVa’s limit of six socially distanced and properly masked people, there were reports that regional venues received requests from UVa organizations to rent space for 60 to 100 people.
One request was for up to 60 people on Feb. 1 and another for up to 100 for March 6. There was no indication if the Feb. 1 event took place.
Those requests were placed on a venue-sourcing website that sends requests to numerous event centers.
The new restrictions will focus on the entire student body.
“We know that the temporary steps outlined will be difficult for members of this community, particularly our students. That said, in light of the rapid growth in cases we have seen over the past week, we believe they are essential to preserving our isolation and quarantine space and reducing the risk of spreading cases into the Charlottesville/Albemarle community,” officials wrote.
The restrictions include prohibiting all in-person events on and off Grounds and all social gatherings, club and organization functions and other in-person interactions. Libraries will be contactless access only
In-person classes, dining facilities and research activities will continue, with additional social distancing measures. Employees are encouraged to work remotely, if possible. Staff and students who work in areas temporarily closed by the restrictions will still be paid.
“This temporary plan is designed to limit opportunities for the virus to spread between people,” administrators wrote. “We do not take these actions lightly, but they are necessary at a time when the virus is more widespread, and it appears members of our community are not adhering to our health and safety protocols as consistently as they did last semester.”
Administrators said they will consider easing the restrictions if conditions improve.
“In the event we continue to see a rise in cases, we will be forced to consider additional measures, including moving all undergraduate classes online and considering the same for graduate and professional schools,” they wrote.