Important Public Health Updates for Spring 2022
To the University community,
We are writing today to update you on the public health approach we will be taking as a University as we prepare for the spring 2022 semester to get fully underway next week.
Nearly two years into this pandemic, it is important to recognize the many ways this virus, and the tools we have to respond to it, have changed. The omicron variant is far more contagious than any previous variant. However, the scientific evidence indicates that omicron causes a milder course of illness, particularly in those who are vaccinated, boosted, and who do not have chronic health conditions.
Given the contagiousness of omicron, it is likely that many members of our community will contract a mild case of COVID-19 this semester. While we will all continue to do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus, the risks of serious illness for vaccinated, boosted and healthy people have never been lower, particularly in relation to the risks for the unvaccinated or those who have chronic conditions.
Protecting the most vulnerable people in our community and in the Charlottesville/Albemarle region is the highest priority of our public health approach. That is why we have insisted on vaccinations, boosters and masks indoors, and why we are taking the additional steps we outline below.
If you have not yet complied with the University’s booster policy, please be sure to do so by the end of the day today by uploading proof of your booster into HealthyHoos for students and Workday for UVA employees. As a reminder, this requirement applies to all Academic Division students, faculty and staff, including students in the School of Medicine and School of Nursing. UVA Health, including School of Medicine and School of Nursing faculty and staff, has set a deadline of Feb. 1 to comply with this requirement.
We hope to have a spring semester that looks like our fall semester in terms of getting back to normal. For that reason, the vast majority of the rules and protocols in place last semester will be in place this semester. At the same time, the start of this semester is coinciding with a significant uptick in cases in the Charlottesville region and around the country. For that reason, we are going to ease into the semester, and take several additional temporary precautions, described below.
In order to limit opportunities for the virus to spread in crowded settings, we will begin the semester with a temporary prohibition on food and beverages at University and student organization-related events held on and off Grounds, including athletics competitions. This policy, which will be in effect from Jan. 17 to Feb. 4, will help ensure that all people who attend these events are wearing masks the entire time they are around others.
During this temporary window, we strongly encourage University community members to avoid organizing or attending large indoor events, especially ones where enforcing a mask mandate will be difficult and/or the vaccination status of the crowd is unknown. We are also asking that you conduct events virtually or outdoors if at all possible.
Isolation and Quarantine
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has adopted new recommendations about isolation and quarantine, which we will follow. Those who are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations (vaccinated and boosted) and test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate for only 5 days, instead of 10, provided that they are symptom-free, or their symptoms are abating after 5 days.
Those who are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations need not quarantine if they are exposed to COVID-19, but they should wear a mask around others for 10 days, watch for symptoms, and get tested 5 days after exposure if possible. CDC guidance states that those who are boosted do not need to quarantine if they are a close contact of someone infected with COVID-19. More information on CDC isolation and quarantine guidance is available here.
As was the case last semester and last year, we have limited isolation spaces available for on-Grounds students who test positive.
As a result of those space limitations and the likelihood that omicron will cause more mild infections than we saw last semester, we are asking on-Grounds students who test positive to isolate at home if possible, provided they can travel there safely and do not live with someone who is at high risk of more serious infection. This approach will allow the University to maintain as much isolation space as possible for on-Grounds students who are unable to travel home or who live with someone who is more vulnerable.
We will prioritize that isolation space for students who live in hall-style residence halls with shared bathrooms. Students living in other on-Grounds residential configurations may be asked to isolate in place, depending on their specific circumstances.
Students who live in off-Grounds residences and test positive should plan to isolate in place at their residence or travel home if they can do so safely.
We will be providing faculty with strategies for helping students unable to attend class to keep up with their coursework. We encourage students to notify instructors when they cannot attend class, and to ask their instructors for guidance about how to remain on track.
Masks and Testing
The University’s indoor mask requirement will stay in place. We strongly encourage all members of our community to wear a mask whenever you’re indoors around other people, whether you’re on University property or not. This is particularly important in spaces around the Charlottesville community, like grocery stores, other shops, and indoor public venues. Generally, we hope you will continue to be good neighbors by taking extra precautions to avoid spreading the virus to people in the Charlottesville/Albemarle community.
Due to the increased contagiousness of this variant, we strongly recommend wearing a medical grade three-ply mask (like the light blue masks commonly worn in medical settings) instead of a single-layer fabric mask. UVA will make masks available outside of classrooms and in other public areas for those who need them.
University testing policies will also remain the same this semester. Any members of our community who are unvaccinated will be required to appear for weekly prevalence testing. More information on the University’s testing approach, including how to schedule an asymptomatic test, is available here. Those experiencing symptoms should test at a health provider.
We strongly encourage students who have access to testing in their home communities, and who are symptomatic, to take a test before returning to Grounds and to isolate at home if you test positive. We recognize that limited resources may make this difficult in many areas, but if you are able, please take this extra precaution to test before you arrive. If you are unable, and you are symptomatic, please sign up for a test as soon as you arrive.
Staying Safe at Work
Faculty who have extenuating health circumstances have received a communication from the Provost’s Office with information about a temporary exception to begin their teaching this semester remotely. University staff with extenuating health circumstances should continue to work with their managers, as they did last semester.
As always, we will continue to monitor public health conditions and will make changes to our approach if they become necessary.
Despite the ongoing need for these policies, we are very excited to kick this semester off and optimistic about the experiences we can share living, learning and working together on Grounds. This virus will pose challenges this semester. But we, as a UVA community, have the capacity to do the right things to keep ourselves and others safe and make the most of this opportunity to be here on Grounds.
Thank you for all the ways you continue to make this University great and good.
Chief Operating Officer