University of Virginia (UVA) President Jim Ryan announced new COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday prohibiting student gathering of five or more people, mandating constant use of masks or face coverings and banning travel and visitors coming to campus for at least the next two weeks.
The restrictions apply to students, faculty and staff, living on and off campus. These restrictions went into effect on Wednesday at 9 a.m.
“Over the last few days, we’ve become more concerned about the spread of COVID-19 within the UVA community,” President Ryan said in a university-wide video message. “Some of this has been driven by a rise in the number of positive cases in our community, but we’ve also gotten reports of a few large student gathering, both on and off grounds, as well as reports about inconsistent adherence to masking and distancing guidelines.”
In his message, Ryan said this has caused concern among the school’s public health experts who worry that the university is heading in the wrong direction with COVID-19.
Specifically, the restrictions decrease the limit on student gathering from 15 people or less to five, even while outdoors, and requires masks to be worn at all times except when students are in their rooms, eating or exercising outside. Lastly, the new rules ask students to not travel outside of Charlottesville or invite guests to campus for the next two weeks.
Along with announcing the tighter restrictions, Ryan stressed the importance of maintaining physical distancing, especially when going to bars or restaurants.
Crystal Luo, a graduate student and member of the United Campus Workers Union of Virginia at UVA, said the restrictions are somewhat too little, too late and don’t help solve the larger issue of having in-person classes.
“I think [the restrictions] are ignoring the fact that, however small you make the official gathering limits or however punitively you want to enforce travel restrictions, we know that people are breaking the rules,” Luo told The Virginia Star. “I think that making the rules more restrictive does not necessarily mean that fewer people are going to find ways to socialize and gather, in fact I feel like it guarantees that rule breaking will rise.”
Luo also took issue with the method Ryan’s message was published by the school, revealing that campus employees, and their managers, were not notified by email of the new guidance.
Furthermore, Luo mentioned that UVA sent an email to students on Tuesday who live away from Charlottesville, which said that they can return to campus, but would have to pay an additional $660 in mandatory student activity fees.
The email, which was sent to Luo because she is not living in Charlottesville, made no mention of new traveling restrictions, only telling students going back to campus that they needed to be tested beforehand, according to Luo.
Ryan said the university has already had to issue interim suspensions for several students who intentionally disregarded policies on masks, social distancing and gatherings.
UVA spokesperson Brian Coy said the school could not provide the number of suspensions in order to protect the safety of the individuals.
In-person classes will continue during the two-week period of enhanced restrictions because the school has no evidence that COVID has been transmitted in classrooms, according to the announcement.
According to the UVA COVID tracker, there have been 585 total positive cases among students, faculty, staff and contract employees since August 17th with 221 of those classified as active cases. 14 student cases were reported on Tuesday. Compared to the latter end of last week, positive tests results are relatively low.
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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “University of Virginia Campus” by Patrickneil. CC BY-SA 3.0.