To the University Community,
We hope this note finds you and your loved ones healthy and well during what continues to be an incredibly difficult time for our nation and the world. When we wrote to you in June to share our plans for the upcoming academic year, we said that our top priority would always be keeping our community safe—and that we would let you know if circumstances required us to adjust. Today, we write to update you with one change: We are delaying the start of in-person undergraduate classes and the opening of undergraduate residence halls by two weeks. To be specific:
- Undergraduate courses will still begin on Tuesday, August 25th, but all courses will begin online.
- In-person courses for undergraduates will begin on September 8th, and students will be able to move into residence halls several days before then. More details will be forthcoming about the revised move-in schedule.
- Graduate and professional school programs are unchanged and will start as planned, and students in those programs will hear directly from their school leaders with additional information.
We are making this change because, in the weeks following our June 17th message, virus indicators locally and across the country have moved in the wrong direction. In Charlottesville and Albemarle County, we have seen an uptick in viral prevalence and transmission rates, and there has been some volatility in the supply-chain for testing materials. In response to these conditions, and based on the advice of UVA public health experts, we have decided to adopt a phased approach to the fall semester, which we believe will best safeguard the health and safety of our University community and our Charlottesville neighbors and give us the best chance of a successful return to Grounds. We still plan to welcome all students back to Grounds, but out of caution, we will do it a bit more slowly than originally intended. This will not only provide us additional time to track the progression of the virus and make doubly sure that we will have adequate testing capacity throughout the semester, but it will also help us ensure that the health and safety protocols we have in place are continuing to work.
We are already in the first phase. The promising news is that we have successfully ramped up research activity, launched select graduate and professional programs in-person, welcomed student-athletes back for pre-season training, and resumed in-person work for staff assisting with fall preparations – collectively bringing thousands of people back to Grounds, including nearly two thousand students. These early steps have shown that, by following proper precautions, we can resume in-person activity safely. In the second phase, we will continue to welcome additional graduate and professional school students as planned – many of whom are already in Charlottesville. Our third and final phase will be to welcome undergraduate students to our residence halls and begin in-person undergraduate classes.
We strongly urge undergraduate students who plan to live off-Grounds and have not yet returned to Charlottesville to delay their return until shortly before in-person classes begin on September 8th. Although undergraduate residence halls will not be open, we know that some students with extenuating circumstances may need to return to Grounds as originally planned, and we will work to accommodate these students with alternate arrangements over the course of the two-week delay. International students who plan to attend the University in person this semester should plan to arrive in the United States by August 25th in order to comply with quarantine and immigration requirements. We will soon be in touch with international students with additional guidance.
In the coming weeks, we will continue to implement our health and safety plans, which include providing training modules, implementing a student behavioral contract, and testing all students who will be in Charlottesville this semester. We have outfitted classrooms for in-person instruction by adding plexiglass barriers to lecterns, revising space capacity to comply with physical distancing, and developing enhanced cleaning protocols. Our public health experts are confident that, with these measures in place, our classrooms will be low-risk environments for our faculty and students.
University services such as recreational and dining facilities, libraries, and transportation will be available on a limited basis, continuing to ramp up as we bring more students back to Grounds. Students, faculty, and staff will be hearing from various University leaders with additional details in the coming days, and we will provide ongoing updates on our Return to Grounds website and Fall 2020 Student Resource site. We have also planned a virtual town hall for Friday, August 7th, at 11 a.m. for students, faculty, and staff who would like to hear more about our plans, and we will be hosting similar virtual gatherings for parents and for members of the Charlottesville and surrounding communities next week.
The unfortunate truth is that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, and we must adapt to changing conditions in order to deliver on our missions of teaching, research, service, and patient care. At the same time, the health and safety of our community remain paramount. We will continue to track closely key criteria such as viral prevalence rates, hospital capacity, compliance with health and safety measures, and the availability of testing materials necessary to our plans for the fall. If we need to change plans again due to the progression of the virus, the guidance of our public health experts, or guidelines from the Virginia Department of Health, we will. For now, we believe that this is the best plan to pursue in the face of the information we have, and we are optimistic that it will enable us to have a safe and productive semester on Grounds. We plan to share another update no later than Friday, August 28th.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented extraordinary challenges to us all, and we recognize that this change will disrupt plans and will come as a disappointment to our undergraduate students eager to return to – or, in the case of our first years, begin – life on Grounds. It will also require additional flexibility from our faculty and staff, who have already been remarkably flexible and understanding.
Thanks to all of you for your continued understanding as we navigate these difficult and uncharted waters. As much as we can plan, we must also approach this virus with humility, as its progression remains unpredictable. Rather than promise complete confidence about the future, the best we can do is create the conditions to succeed and pledge to adapt as necessary. We continue to have faith in this extraordinary community’s ability to make the year ahead a success.
K. Craig Kent
EVP for Health Affairs
EVP and Chief Operating Officer