Students, staff and faculty at the University of Virginia will need to get COVID-19 vaccine boosters by Friday after university officials moved up the deadline by more than two weeks.
Officials made the announcement this past Friday in an email message to the UVA community. The original deadline was Feb. 1.
“We have changed the booster deadline because our public health experts are concerned that a spike in serious COVID-19 cases at the start of the semester could strain health care resources and university isolation and quarantine space,” the message states.
The email was signed by UVA President Jim Ryan, Provost Liz Magill, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Dr. K. Craig Kent of UVA Health.
“By pulling this booster deadline forward, we will ensure that the highest number of UVA community members possible are as protected as they can be from COVID-19 infection, serious illness and hospitalization as the in-person semester gets underway,” the administrators wrote.
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Officials noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines do not require quarantine of boosted people who come into contact with people who have COVID. That will allow more students and staff to be in class.
“The accelerated requirement will also preserve university quarantine space and enable more students, staff and faculty to continue learning and working without disruption,” the administrators said.
Officials also noted that booster shots are widely available across the country and that the Blue Ridge Health District and other districts offer booster shots.
Faculty with extenuating health circumstances may request a temporary exception to begin their semester teaching remotely, the same as they did for the recent January term, according to the email.
The officials said moving the booster deadline is an alternative to delaying in-person classes until the current omicron surge subsides.
As of Thursday, more than 24% of staff and students tested for COVID in the past seven days had positive results, according to UVA’s COVID-19 tracking website. The rate was 29.45% among faculty and staff and 16.6% among students. There were 124 new cases of COVID detected on Thursday among UVA staff and students, 95 of whom were staff and faculty.
Most students have not returned to Grounds and will not be back until Jan. 19, when spring semester starts.
“The university’s spring 2022 semester will begin as planned, which means no changes to move-in dates or the start of courses and that the default for all courses will be in-person,” the administrators said. “In-person instruction is a core part of our mission as an institution, and UVA public health experts have advised us that classroom spaces are low-risk environments for infection.”
UVA Medical Center officials said that on Friday, they had 82 COVID patients in the hospital with 25% of those in intensive care. Although the number of patients is double from what it was on Dec. 23, the percentage of patients in ICU has dropped from almost 50%.
The university’s COVID-19 website shows 94 patients being treated at UVA Medical Center for COVID on Thursday.
Dr. Reid Adams, chief medical officer for UVA Medical Center, said the omicron variant brings in more patients, but also lets them leave much sooner than the delta, alpha or original versions of the coronavirus.
“The in-and-out flow of patients is pretty rapid with the omicron patients. They often need to stay a few days rather than weeks, so there’s a turnaround,” Adams said. “The vast majority of patients are still unvaccinated, closer to 75 to 80% of those hospitalized.”
In their email, UVA administrators said they are evaluating the current policies on remote working, events and gatherings and other requirements and restrictions and will announce any other changes by the end of this week.
“We are all tired of this virus, but we must remain both vigilant and flexible in order to strike the appropriate balance, as best we can, between public health and safety measures and fulfilling our core missions of residential teaching, research and medical care,” they wrote.