Twenty-six incidents of the virus were recorded Wednesday, according to the most recent data made available by the university.
“We know this period has been really difficult, particularly for our students,” officials said Friday in a message to the community. “But the sacrifices you’ve made over the past 10 days are making our community safer. We have demonstrated the ability to do the right things to limit the spread of the virus.”
There will still be limits on students’ activities. In-person gatherings will be capped at six people and students eating indoors will be restricted to groups of two, officials said.
Students, who previously were told not to gather except to attend classes, will be permitted to “resume normal activity, while observing all health and safety guidelines,” university officials said. Recreational facilities and university libraries will reopen, with some restrictions, Saturday morning.
“These changes are good news, and a clear indication of how seriously members of our community, particularly our students, are taking the enhanced public health measures,” officials said in the message. “However, it would be a mistake to interpret them as a sign that we are out of the woods.”
Officials are asking students to stick to pods, or small groups of people who agree to socialize only with each other.
“Socializing with a small group of people and limiting contact with people outside that group reduces the spread of the virus,” officials said in the message. “Bouncing from one group of six to another puts people in both groups at risk.”
The university blamed widespread noncompliance of health and safety rules — such as inconsistent mask usage and big social gatherings — for the sudden uptick of cases. But some students want university administrators to share in the blame.
The student council is calling on officials to issue a written apology for “their failure to enforce their own covid-19 restrictions” after allowing sororities and fraternities to host in-person recruitment events the weekend before cases started to surge, reported the university’s newspaper the Cavalier Daily.
The school has brought conduct cases against five fraternities, as well as individual students, for violating safety protocols this school year, Allen Groves, associate vice president and dean of students, said at a recent virtual town hall.
At the same virtual event, U-Va. President Jim Ryan said that “perhaps, we should have tried harder to discourage” the recruitment events. But he also indicated that the outbreak could not be traced to a single source — or even a few sources.
“Many of the cases that led to the spike started with minor lapses, like two or three people removing their masks to eat together in a dorm room or off-grounds residence,” officials said Friday. “This virus exploits small mistakes.”
Meanwhile, officials at the University of Maryland in College Park will review virus data and decide by Saturday morning if restrictions imposed last weekend should be lifted, Darryll J. Pines, the school’s president, said Friday. Classes were moved online for the week and students were told to stay indoors as much possible.
The university has reported 154 new cases since the restrictions were imposed Feb. 20. Another 104 students and employees, who were tested off campus, have said they have contracted the virus in the same period, according to university data.
“The previous announcement on Saturday of last week was out of an abundance of caution to kind of curtail a lot of the movement in our residence halls and throughout the campus environment,” Pines said. “The numbers are looking good, but we’re going to wait and see the numbers at the end of today to make sure we’re really confident.”