The majority of the 106 active student cases of COVID-19 at the University of Virginia were discovered through pre-arrival testing, according to Dr. Mitchell Rosner, who chairs the university’s Department of Medicine. 

Since Jan. 10, UVA has conducted more than 17,000 COVID tests on its student population — many of which were tests conducted prior to students’ on-Grounds arrival. Students were required to take the at-home PCR tests — provided for free through LetsGetChecked — 10 days prior to their return to Charlottesville.

Some students returned to the area well before classes began Monday. Accordingly, reported student cases increased even while most students weren’t in the area. 

“[The timing of testing] just depended upon when the student was going to come into town, so they were asked to test between seven to 10 days before they got here,” Rosner said. “That can be quite variable.”

Students who tested positive for COVID-19 through pre-arrival testing were required to isolate at home in accordance with their local health department’s guidelines and for a minimum of 10 days before returning to Grounds. 

Those positive pre-arrival tests account for the “vast majority” of cases reported on the university’s COVID tracker, Rosner said. In other words, the 106 active cases among students aren’t concentrated in Charlottesville. 

“Those early cases shouldn’t affect us much, unless they’re students that are already here or have been here,” Rosner said.

All the cases of coronavirus among University of Virginia students who are living in Charlottesville or Albemarle County are being counted in the local health district’s numbers, officials said in the fall. 

COVID-19 positive students living in on-Grounds housing throughout winter break were required to isolate in designated quarantine spaces. Currently, 4% of the university’s quarantine and isolation spaces are occupied by students. 

Students who reside in Charlottesville but off Grounds were given the option to isolate in place or in the university’s quarantine spaces. UVA also required students living in Charlottesville throughout winter break to take weekly saliva tests.

With students now on Grounds for classes, Rosner foresees quarantine and isolation occupancy increasing this week as weekly prevalence testing uncovers positive COVID-19 cases among students. All UVA students — whether living on or off Grounds — are now required to take weekly saliva tests through the university.

Rosner and other university leaders aim to curb potential COVID surges stemming from the influx of students through both mitigation efforts and pre-arrival testing.

“We hope that the mitigation efforts — rapid isolation, quarantine, all the testing that we’re doing, limiting the size of gatherings to six people — those things will really clamp that down,” Rosner said. “… [W]hat we’ve done before they get here [pre-arrival testing] — which is really a lot of what the numbers that you’re seeing — is really to prepare us better so that those cases don’t enter into the community.”


Ali Sullivan is a graduate of the University of Virginia. She received a B.A. in Media Studies and Government in 2020.