CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - University of Virginia students are coming back to Grounds soon for an in-person spring semester. We asked why the university feels comfortable bringing students back for in-person classes, starting on February 1, when we are in the toughest days yet of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The university is, without a doubt, more prepared to handle this virus than we’ve ever been,” said Brian Coy, the university’s spokesperson. “We have greater testing capacity, we know a lot more just about how to manage the virus, we’re starting to see a lot of members in our health system and other people in the region be vaccinated, and we have much greater isolation and quarantine capacity than we did when we began the fall semester.”
Still, COVID is surging in the Charlottesville area. Ever since the start of 2021 the Blue Ridge Health District has recorded a percent positivity rate of at least 8% every day. Plus, there have been 125 COVID hospitalizations since the New Year at UVA’s hospital, an average of 8.9 new patients each day.
“One key factor is in the previous semester we did not see any particular relationship between students being in the area and an increase in hospital admissions,” Coy said.
That’s a claim that Dr. Denise Bonds at the Blue Ridge Health District has said is true as early as October.
“For the most part what we see is students infecting other students,” Bonds said in a presentation to the Charlottesville City Council back in early October.
But in order for the semester to be any level of success, Coy says it depends on student’s compliance with rules - like the new limit on gatherings: six people maximum. Coy says that number was designed to allow for some “small gatherings” of “a couple pairs of roommates” to sit outside and be socially distanced.
“We’re going to have to send a very clear message to our students and to our community that the margin of error is smaller this time around.”
He is hopeful that the measure will work because of last semester’s precedent. UVA’s COVID cases were rising until early October, which was shortly after the university implemented a gathering capacity of five people.
For more information on what UVA’s spring semester will look like, you can click here.