The University of Virginia is expecting to make a decision about graduation ceremonies by April 15 as it continues to assess and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, but right now, it is asking for parents to make sure students return home after the university decided Wednesday to suspend classes on Grounds.
“We are especially concerned right now about students living off Grounds,” wrote Patricia Lampkin, UVa’s chief student affairs officer, in a message to parents Friday. “Last night, a number of students were celebrating on the Corner, and a rumor is circulating about more gatherings this evening.”
Lampkin asked parents to help their students understand the dangers posed by the virus and how they potentially could infect other residents in the local community. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus and it can be severe or deadly in older people or those will underlying health conditions. Experts have said the best way to slow the spread of the virus is through social distancing or limiting the physical contact between people.
Earlier this week, UVa joined hundreds of universities and colleges across the country that have effectively shut down their campuses to help curb the spread of the virus.
The university’s spring break was supposed to end Sunday, but has been extended through Wednesday. Online classes will begin Thursday. On Friday, the university issued its plea to parents.
“We made the very difficult decision to move our classes to virtual instruction not only based on the health and welfare of our students, but also because we want to ensure that the UVa Health System, a Level 1 trauma center, is not stretched too thin in the coming weeks and months,” Lampkin wrote. “We believe the fewer students in Charlottesville right now, the better for our health system and, thus, for the health and welfare of everyone in the region.”
At the UVa Medical Center, doctors have set up a COVID-19 clinic. Anyone who may be concerned about symptoms should call the hospital at (434) 982-6843 first. Then, based on a screening, medical staff would decide whether to direct patients to the clinic. The screening criteria at UVa hasn’t changed.
Visitors to patients at the Medical Center will be restricted as the hospital steps up precautions. As of 5 p.m. Friday, patients are now limited to two designated visitors. Visitation at the university’s transitional care hospital, which provides long-term care for patients with serious medical conditions, was suspended Thursday.
UVa is expecting that a small number of students will have to remain in on-campus housing and has said it will support those students through scaled-back services. Libraries also will remain open; however, locations that depend on student workers could close. Students who need to stay have to notify UVa by Wednesday. More information about the university’s response is at virginia.edu/coronavirus.
Lampkin said UVa has enlisted the help of landlords and alumni who manage Greek housing to ensure students return home.
Provost Liz Magill wrote in an update Thursday that she expects UVa to complete the semester on time. Faculty and staff also should plan to report to work as usual, but the university is encouraging managers to consider work-from-home options for staff.
To prepare for online classes, UVa is surveying faculty to determine the support they need for the transition and providing assistance. UVa’s Center for Teaching Excellence also is hosting webinars to help faculty members.
Additionally, the university is working to identify and support students who might not have access to the internet.
A working group is looking into how to offset dining and housing costs for students, but specific details on what that would look like have not yet been released.
“The immediate focus has been on protecting the health of our students, faculty, staff and Charlottesville neighbors and continuing the delivery of teaching, research and clinical care,” university officials wrote in an FAQ about the virus.
Lampkin said in her letter that in her 40 years at UVa, she has never faced a crisis like this one.
“We must help [students] understand how vital it is to unite around this crisis,” she wrote. “The COVID-19 health crisis is forcing each of us to make sacrifices and changes none of us wants to make. In the end, however, it is not about us. It’s about our responsibility to our fellow human beings.”