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UVA mask mandate extended with some new exemptions

Some COVID-19-related restrictions on masks and social distancing are being eased at UVa, but the university is extending the general requirement that everyone wear masks inside university facilities.

Under the new rules announced in a memo to the university community by UVa Provost Liz Magill, and COO J.J. Davis, vaccinated patrons of the school’s recreation facilities will be able to doff their masks during group exercises or while using cardio equipment.

The UVa Marching Band will now be allowed to perform at Scott Stadium, and drama students will be allowed to rehearse indoors and may go without masks during performances, providing the audience is wearing masks.

And the traditional holiday Lighting of the Lawn will take place in person rather than being held virtually like last year’s event.

The administrators said the changes will be effective Oct. 27.

“The threat of the pandemic remains, but our high vaccination rate and low case counts allow us to begin loosening restrictions in targeted areas that will make it easier for members of our community to pursue their studies or other activities important to them,” Davis and Magill wrote in the Friday memo.

There are strings attached to the changes, however.

“All [recreation facility] attendees will be required to wear masks when they are not actively using cardio equipment or participating in a group exercise class and are expected to maintain social distancing while inside the facility,” Magill and Davis wrote. “[Recreation officials are] in the process of updating its policies and will share more information on specific protocols on its website.”

The administrators said that, as weather turns colder, students in drama, dance, and instrumental music “will be permitted to rehearse and perform indoors, provided they are following certain public health requirements.”

Classes and students may be subject to specific requirements, including wearing masks and physically distancing when not actively rehearsing, wearing clear masks at final rehearsals for drama activities, and fitting brass and wind instruments with bell covers.

For the Lighting of the Lawn, only members of the UVa community will be allowed to participate. Traditionally, members of the community have joined in the ceremony.

“The event will be held entirely outdoors and will be limited to UVa students, faculty, staff, and their families,” Davis and Magill wrote.

With those exceptions, UVa officials are otherwise extending to the end of fall semester the mask requirement that has been in place since just before school’s start in late August.

“This policy applies to all people who enter a University-owned or leased space, regardless of vaccination status,” Magill and Davis wrote. “It does not apply to residence halls or personal residences, or when people are actively eating or drinking.”

The modifications are the latest move by university officials in response to a summer surge in COVID cases caused by the delta variant and recent decreases in case counts.

Earlier this month, UVa announced that basketball fans, concert goers and anyone attending events inside John Paul Jones Arena must provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test before admittance.

When administrators first implemented the mask mandate for fall term in early August, they had hoped to lift it by Sept. 6. It didn’t happen. Increasing cases of COVID led the administration to continue to the requirement with hopes of pulling it down on Oct. 1.

That didn’t happen either.

The mask mandate has applied to football fans who must don their masks while in the stadium’s rest rooms, common areas and concession stands. They may unmask themselves while sitting in their seats, although public health officials have recommended they keep their faces covered.

On Friday, the administrators said that the recent exemptions and general mask extension were done in consultation with university and community health officials.

“As with all of our COVID-19 policies, these decisions are guided by our medical experts,” Davis and Magill wrote. “We are optimistic that the policies we have in place will allow us to finish this semester together strong, and we will continue to look for opportunities to offer even greater flexibility to members of our community as we prepare for the spring semester.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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