Amelia Faison, a second-year at the University of Virginia, stood in her dorm room Tuesday, unsure of where to start.
Under normal circumstances, she would have slowly packed up her belongings. Instead, she had less than an hour to get what she needed and had to leave larger items behind. She drove back home to Charlotte, North Carolina on Tuesday, carpooling with Jack Thomson, a first-year who lives in Atlanta.
“I was pretty bummed,” Thomson said of packing up and leaving. “I feel like I’m much happier at UVa. I really fell in love with the school. I was pretty sad this morning.”
UVa students living on Grounds must move out by noon Wednesday after finding out last week that in-person classes on Grounds were suspended and switching to online. UVa is one of scores of universities to take similar steps in the face of the global novel coronavirus pandemic.
Federal and state officials are taking drastic steps to limit large gatherings of people, but universities were the first group to take significant steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, the number of national cases of COVID-19 surpassed 5,000, and Virginia now has 67 confirmed cases.
UVa still remains open to staff, but only students who have unavoidable circumstances are now allowed to live in campus housing, and they must notify the university before the deadline in order to retain access their dorm.
Sydney Macon, a third-year physics major, was a resident advisor in a dorm.
She said she had to say goodbye to friends and residents very suddenly before returning home to Maryland, and wasn’t able to say goodbye to some at all.
“I was able to get everything, but most of it I had to do on my own as my parents couldn’t take off work abruptly to spend a whole day in Charlottesville moving me out,” she said.
Online classes are set to begin Thursday, but students said they aren’t sure how those classes will work.
Macon said some teachers have sent thoughtful messages, but that it’s stressful to not know how long students will be gone or when they might return to normalcy.
“UVa keeps saying the same thing in different ways, and beyond President Ryan’s sentiments, teachers are just easy to get back to work and no one has acknowledged how taxing this is, which is super frustrating,” she said.
UVa Housing and Residence Life didn’t have an exact tally of students who are staying by press time Tuesday.
University officials also have asked parents to get their students out of Charlottesville, but have little power to enforce that push.
On Tuesday, several residents of University Circle sent an email to university officials complaining about parties occurring at fraternity houses on Rugby Road and Grady Avenue.
“They are a risk to our vulnerable neighbors and are here in flagrant disregard for your instructions,” Karen Marsh wrote in an email asking university officials to take stronger action against the organizations, which are independent of the university.
Dean of Students Allen Groves responded that he was asking university police to patrol the area more frequently and to be on the lookout for open containers and other violations.
In a phone call later, Groves said he and staff had communicated with the student body and with local fraternity and sorority organizations and their alumni affiliates in order to impress the severity of the situation.
“We’ve tried to tell them in no uncertain terms that this is brutally serious stuff,” Groves said. “If you do the right thing here, this could save a life.
Groves said that on Tuesday afternoon, as several reports of student parties trickled in, he sent staff and jumped in the car himself to check on students and ask them to turn in, or, if organizations continue to flout state and local requests, to potentially face conduct violations.
As on-campus residents clear out, Faison said the message from professors has been that they’ll try online instruction methods out and see how it works, troubleshooting along the way.
“A lot are being helpful and making sure we understand they are open to any questions,” said Faison, a pre-communications major.
Thomson is studying mechanical engineering.
“I could see doing a computer science lecture online, but I don’t know how a physics lab would work,” he said.
Thomson added that he might be able to use this time to get his grades up a little.
UVa President Jim Ryan empathized with students in a social media post Sunday evening, acknowledging that they are losing something will be difficult to recover.
“This is especially true of our graduating students, but it also true for hundreds of student-athletes, student performers of all sorts, student-researchers, and others who were preparing for something, participating in something, pouring their hearts into something that will now not happen,” he wrote. “No matter how much we know that this is the right thing to do, that we will work through this, and that will we will emerge even stronger than we are — this is a loss. A real one, and in many cases a painful one.”