Against the advice of pretty much any person, group, or institution that’s decided to weigh in on the topic, UVA is sticking to its plan to hold in-person classes, the school confirmed on Friday.
Though many upperclassmen have already settled in to their off-campus apartments, the decision means that hordes of first-years will move in to their dorm rooms this coming weekend.
“We know people will contract the virus and some will get sick,” the administration wrote on Friday. “There will likely be outbreaks that we will have to work to contain…You can do everything in your power to plan and prepare, but it still might not be enough, as things can change rapidly.”
Indeed, things are already changing rapidly, and not for the better. As of Wednesday, 117 students and 38 faculty, staff, or contract employees had tested positive for the virus. Of those positives, 129 have been confirmed since August 24. Two new people were hospitalized on Tuesday, and 18 people have been hospitalized since the beginning of last week.
In the Thomas Jefferson Health District, the count of those infected continues to rise. From August 21 to 28, the week prior to UVA’s decision to return, 155 new cases were confirmed in the area.
Statewide, hospital ICUs are currently at 77 percent capacity, a 10 percent increase from last year’s average.
UVA has decided to plow forward despite evidence from college towns across the country that doing so will result in a dramatic increase in infections. At the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill—a large, selective, southeastern state university—the return of students heralded an immediate outbreak. One thousand, forty-four students and 56 employees at Chapel Hill have tested positive as of Monday.
And though UVA can’t control whether or not students return to their off-campus apartments, the school could have kept students out of university-run residence halls—the very locations that have been most severely affected at UNC. One Chapel Hill residence hall, Granville Towers, has seen 188 cases so far.
UVA instructors have the option to conduct their classes entirely online, and most of them have exercised that option. Students will move back to dorms, but many will sit in their rooms for days of online-only classes that could have just as easily been completed in more well-ventilated spaces.
The COVID response from the administration has been so poor that it galvanized students and staff to begin efforts to unionize. Two weeks ago, The United Campus Workers of Virginia announced that it had come in to being in part because of dissatisfaction with the administration’s actions.
Charlottesville residents have been just as vocal about their concerns about the return of students. The Charlottesville Human Rights Commission, a city advisory panel, called on the school to hold solely virtual classes. City Council has been equally clear: In July, Mayor Nikuyah Walker called the plan “a recipe for disaster.”
If anyone would be excited for the return of students, you’d think it would be the students themselves. But even UVA’s own student council has called for the suspension of in-person classes, and in doing so, the council has exhibited a moral clarity the administration has lacked. “The University cannot, in good conscience, resume in-person instruction,” the council writes. “COVID-19 will spread, the Charlottesville community will suffer, and students, faculty, staff, and community members will die.”