As we welcome more students back to Grounds, we write today to tell you about new methods of population testing for COVID-19 that the University will use in our shared effort to keep each other and the community safe this semester.
First, let us offer a sincere “thank you” for following the University’s health and safety recommendations. Your participation and commitment to our community are a big part of why we decided that we could open our residence halls and conduct in-person instruction this semester. We recognize that everyone has some level of virus-fatigue, and we all yearn for a return to more normal routines and rhythms of University and community life. Until that’s possible, we must contend with what’s before us, stay vigilant, and remain patient.
Our vigilance includes closely and regularly monitoring the prevalence of the virus on Grounds and in the local community, and acting on what we learn. Testing and contact tracing play key roles here. You’re aware that all students planning to be on Grounds or live in the local community had to be tested for COVID before returning. In addition, UVA Health has tested thousands of samples since March of both symptomatic and asymptomatic members of the University and broader communities to help identify, contain, and treat infections.
With the return of more students to Grounds, the University is expanding its approach to population testing, and the related requirements for those of you who are here in Charlottesville. Our goal is to periodically test all students living and learning on Grounds or in the local community over the course of the fall semester, using several methods:
Asymptomatic prevalence testing: People can carry the virus and transmit it even though they feel fine and have no symptoms of the disease. Identifying students who have COVID but are asymptomatic helps to minimize the spread of the virus. This testing will include all students who are living and learning on Grounds and in the Charlottesville/Albemarle area. And it is mandatory, so please respond promptly if you receive a message notifying you of a test.
Beginning next week, the University will notify a group of students each day that they have been selected to provide samples. Students who are selected for a test will receive an email with detailed instructions. Testing, using nasal swabs, will take place in the Student Activities Building and results will be available in 24 to 48 hours.
Later this month, UVA will launch a program in which the University will use saliva samples to quickly screen large numbers of asymptomatic students over the course of the semester. There will be multiple screening locations around Grounds where students can stop by and provide a sample. We expect results to be provided rapidly. When the saliva screening program is ready to begin, students will receive more details about how the program will work.
Wastewater analysis: A third method includes testing the wastewater from residence halls. Working with the Virginia Department of Health, the University will analyze residence hall wastewater, which can indicate the presence of COVID. If the wastewater from a residence hall indicates new COVID-19 infections, UVA will conduct virus testing of all of the occupants of that residence hall.
Again, the goal of these testing efforts is to identify and contain the virus. In case there is any question, we want to make it completely clear that students will not be subject to disciplinary action for a positive test result or for any information disclosed as part of contact tracing. Testing and contact tracing are some of our most effective tools. Your full participation will help protect you, your friends, and your community.
As students continue to move into residence halls this weekend and in-person courses begin for undergraduates, we are both hopeful and realistic. Hopeful because the work we have done together so far – and these new testing initiatives – puts us in position to take another step forward. Realistic because the future is unpredictable, and it may become necessary to change course. Above all else, we are pleased to welcome you back to Grounds. We have missed the vitality that you bring to this special place – it has not been the same without you.
Please continue to make decisions that help you, your friends, and our neighbors stay safe. If you are feeling ill, contact Student Health at 434-924-5362 for guidance. We have ample resources to help you, and to provide direction on your next steps to protect your health and the health of others.
Best wishes for a productive and safe semester.
Chief Operating Officer
Mitch Rosner, MD, MACP
Henry B. Mulholland Professor of Medicine
Chair, Department of Medicine
Chief Medical Advisor, UVA COVID-19 Response