As It Turns Out, UVa Has Third Most COVID Cases in Virginia Higher-Ed

by James A. Bacon

In my previous post I reported how the University of Virginia has handled the COVID-19 epidemic, noting that the state’s flagship university had experienced 1,250 cases since reopening this fall and only seven hospitalizations. Having no basis for comparison, I withheld judgment on whether UVa had done a superior job compared to other public institutions. As it happens, the New York Times has just published data for most of the higher-ed institutions across the country. It turns out that UVa ranks third among Virginia colleges and universities for total confirmed cases — hardly an endorsement of the Ryan administration’s handling of the epidemic.

This data from the NYT database lists all cases since the beginning of the pandemic, not just this semester:

As can be seen above, only Virginia Tech and James Madison University reported more confirmed cases than UVa. If one expresses the number of cases as a percentage of the student body, JMU looks like the unparalleled disaster story of the pandemic. Tech may have a much larger enrollment, but its 1,726 cases suggests that it has hardly covered itself with virus-fighting glory. It is worth noting that George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Old Dominion University — all institutions of roughly comparable size to Tech and UVa — reported a fraction of the number of confirmed cases.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing is how Ryan and his lieutenants included none of this data in its presentation to the Board of Visitors yesterday. They posed as heroes — a word that was used more than once in the board meeting — and provided no information to support a critical self-examination. If a Fortune 500 president had sugar-coated his management performance so shamelessly, he would have been fired the next day.

No, upon reflection, there is one thing more distressing than the self-congratulations and mutual back-patting of UVa’s administrators, and that was the utter lack of critical questioning by the Board of Visitors. Not one board member asked how UVa compared to peer institutions. Board members just praised Ryan and his team for a job well done.

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20 responses to “As It Turns Out, UVa Has Third Most COVID Cases in Virginia Higher-Ed

  1. Probably more useful to know percentage and perhaps more so about
    residential on campus?

    But even I was a little skeptical of the attaboys given to Ryan…

    No shock at all that he and others like him, do their share of self congratulation… back patting, etc.. after all, who does that job thinking they suck at it?


  2. One that stands out as a success is William and Mary. At the beginning of the semester, the school suspended and even expelled students for breaking the social distancing rules and engaging in party behavior. The message was received.

  3. Given that these people running UVA are proven to be congenital liars and braggarts, I was amazed at Jim Bacon Infomercial post. Really astounded.

    Reading UVA’s monumental claims to its winning its game changing World War battle with Covid on its Grounds, I was wondering the obvious all along, namely: how did UVA’s record compare to other universities? As NN said so aptly “what bullet?”

    How many times does one have to be burned in life, to get the message of fire?

    After what point does one learn from nasty experience dealing with certain people. Yes, there is evil and sin in the world, thanks to humankind. Yes, self seeking liars and braggarts chronically and wildly spending other peoples’ money for their own private advantage never change their stripes.

    All this is not rocket science. Here, all one need do is read with discernment the propaganda that fills USAtoday, UVA Research Digest, and UVA Magazine regularly about what is happening on the Grounds of the greatest self proclaimed research university in the history of the world, UVA at Charlottesville.

  4. Reed, I think it’s a bit harsh to refer to my previous post as an “infomercial.” I was just reporting what was said during the Board of Visitors meeting. I have been highly critical of Ryan in the past, so it’s obvious to everyone that I’m no lapdog. Moreover, I did include this caveat: “I can’t say if UVa did a better job of containing the virus than other higher-ed institutions.”

    And today, when I came across data that would answer the question, I brought attention to it.

    I think the onus is now on Ryan to explain why UVa’s confirmed cases were so high. But the story is still not over. The COVID epidemic is a complex phenomenon. There might be reasons why UVa’s infection rate is so high. I can’t think of what they might be, but the Ryan team should be given an opportunity to put its interpretation on on the data. After everything we’ve seen with how the media treated the Trump administration, I would think conservatives would be acutely sensitive to mistreating those with whom we disagree. We should try to set a higher standard for ourselves.

  5. There have been geographic waves. Northern Virginia was the first part of Virginia to be hard hit. Western Virginia’s turn came just as the semester opened, so those schools had more problems in the overall community. That said, I am now wondering if the November surge we’ve been seeing has been fed in part by the schools emptying out the week before Thanksgiving….

  6. Soooo many variables, here. Enrollment size, community size, geographic origin/spread of student body, campus dynamics (commuter school vs primarily on-campus living; urban vs rural campus), local/municipality support/policies, and, perhaps most importantly, testing and how/when conducted. You probably need to be a data scientist to analyze it all and make an apt comparison. Not sure how at any rate you can compare UVa, a geographically diverse large university in a decent-sized small city like Charlottesville to, for example, Longwood University in tiny, secluded Farmville, or to GMU which, despite it’s evolution in recent years, is still in many important respects a “commuter school” (and also located in Fairfax County, which has a demonstrably more Covid risk-averse culture than does Central and Southern Va.) And this is, again, all before you even consider any differences in testing practices and protocols which, to put it mildly, varied widely between schools. None of which is to say I think Ryan’s response was perfect, nor that he should necessarily be lauded as some sort of hero. I will say this, however… the man, from the outset, committed to giving the students at UVa as close to a “normal” college experience (including a measure of in-person instruction) as possible, and he stuck to his guns on that despite pressure to bow and worship at the “stop the risk of infections at all costs” altar. He recognized that there are competing, but not necessarily mutually exclusive objectives in addressing this crisis– the protection of community health, but also the preservation of educational and social cohesion. To his credit, he led an effort to try to protect BOTH interests and, in the end, showed that it is possible to maintain a degree of normalcy while still protecting public health… Whatever the number crunching and data analysis might eventually show

    • Well said. You’re absolutely right. There are many, many variables. Perhaps the most important one is university’s commitment to teach as classes in person, as opposed to online. If we take all those variables into consideration, UVa might come out looking pretty good. I’m not asserting that UVa did a bad job, and I hope I didn’t leave that impression. My main beef is that none of the points you identified in your comment were ever raised during the board meeting, either by Ryan, his people, or board members. The tenor was rah-rah, we did great. I think university administrations need to be more forthcoming, and the board needs to be more probing.

    • Popo1991’s post by itself reflects UVA’s hubris selling its own exceptionalism, so it argues that it can’t be compared to other VA. institutions in Virginia. At base it is just more arrogant BS. UVA need to get over itself. It’s narcissism and chronic marketing of itself and its quest for other people’s money is destroying the institution. And it is reflected here in this matter, as in all all other matters, killing the institutions mission.

      • I am, as I indicated, no hero-worshipper of Ryan’s. In fact, it’s fair to say I am not a “fan”of his at all. Further, I have never, even during my years in Charlottesville many years ago, been a blind adherent to the “UVa exceptionalism” narrative, though I do understand the blind hatred in folks like you that that narrative can engender… a “counter-narrative” of your own. But this is not, and should not be about narrative, about UVa’s general exceptionalism or lack thereof… The current situation is simply too dangerous, both in the risk to public health as well as in the associated socioeconomic risks facing us. Rather, it is about quantifying the effects of UVas policies and, as little as you may like it, that necessitates a quantitative analysis, and not just blind “comparison”, of the numbers. Statistically, quantitatively, even scientifically, and especially qualitatively, it makes no sense to look at the NYT numbers “in a vacuum”… as the NYT itself in the associated article explicitly states at multiple points, particularly in its ultimate conclusion.

        • The real problem is that no comparative numbers were used at the Board of Visitors meeting. As I understand it, Ryan declared his efforts and the efforts of his administration heroic and the BoV bowed down to the great hero. Later, statistics came up which brought into question the claims of heroism by Ryan and his adoring BoV.

          As I’ve written on this blog – when given a choice of conspiracy or incompetence you can almost always safely choose incompetence. Sounds like Ryan was blathering while the Board of Rubber Stampers cheered him on. That type of governance is not what Virginians should expect or even tolerate with regard to major assets of the Commonwealth. Of course, the head of the BoV is the same man who gave Tim Kaine a free vacation on his private Caribbean island valued at $18,000 so the selection process for the board is pretty obvious.

          As for UVa exceptionalism – I have never believed in that. While I was there (1977 – 1981) bumper stickers citing “The University” were all the rage. I thought that was arrogant then and I think that is arrogant now. UVa has a fine history of top notch public education but so do other universities in the United States. I see no evidence that UVa is demonstrably the best university in the US or the best public university in the US. However, one thing UVa will always have going for it … it’s not William & Mary!

    • Jim, I read yet again your first article “How UVA dodged the Covid-19 Bullet. You got rolled by those running UVA and its marketing machine. These people are hard at work everyday in every Covid-19 article they write and /or performance they put on, all hawking grandiose claims for UVA products for sale, products that are built of monies paid by UVA undergraduates for their own undergraduate education which has done so much damage to so many throughout the state in so many ways that all can see.

      • “I do understand the blind hatred in folks like you that that narrative can engender… a “counter-narrative” of your own.”


        The root and irreconcilable problem with UVA began to become exposed in the spring of 2012. Teresa Sullivan then made clear her ambition to convert UVA into a vertically integrated Research University. (See my BR article Sullivan’s Risky Bet on STEM dated April 5, 2015).

        This radically changed UVA from an elite public university with a strong undergraduate reputation into a profit seeking graduate research institution designed to reward those running the institution at the hugely increased expense of the undergraduate students, their parents, and taxpayers generally. And, along the way, the courses of the great majority of those who foot the bill at UVA were gutted to pay bills incurred by others, and/or were converted into critical race and power theory for political activists, and identity group grievance sessions for racists. This conversion set about destroying the humanities, including history, social sciences and the like at UVA, while it injected toxic poison into generations of students, that now is hard at work destroying Western Civilization, America, and Virginia along with it.

        All this is plain to see all around us.

        Witness the hysteria at Charlottesville over bogus rape epidemics promoted at UVA for years, pitting boys against girls, while slandering white fraternity members.

        Witness UVA’s inflaming of race riots in spring and summer of 2017 involving the active participation of faculty at UVA.

        Witness the hijacking of UVA’s Curry School of teacher education to poison K-12 education throughout the state with bogus science like critical race theory, spreading hate, shame, guilt and confusion among children in Virginia’s k-12 classrooms.

        Hence, UVA increasingly has been converting its first class undergraduate college into a second class undergraduate and graduate school focused on research by students who lack the learning and experience to perform it, yet done for the benefit of their tenured masters. The result is a 2nd class research university roiled with hysteria among students and with rent and grievance seeking among faculty and administrators. (For background see my article Toxic Brew: Relativism and Globalism dated Nov. 17, 2017, and my article The Higher-Ed Cost Crisis as Research Cost Crisis, dated Feb. 15, 2018.”

        In short, UVA, a formerly great university, has been turned upside down at enormous public expense, financially, socially, and civically. The recent explosion of vulgarity on the Lawn is only a small part of the problem for a university whose original charter has been destroyed, and replaced by a schizophrenic monster with two missions:

        A/ half Venture capital research and development firm designed and built to enrich those who run “the university,” and,

        B/ half leftist research and development of radical ideologies political action group designed and built to empower the ideologues who run UVA, gaining them ever more wealth, status, and control of the political, social, and cultural life of the Virginia, and the nation.

        This is plain to see all around us now, what UVA poisons at undergraduate, graduate and professional level (be it law, medicine, science, STEM, teacher education) or what was know as the humanities) and spreads out into America.

        For example, consider this just published by UVA:

        “Over the past nine months, clinical trials conducted at the University of Virginia have led to new treatments for patients fighting COVID-19 in Charlottesville and new tools for health care workers saving lives around the world.

        “We have been able to learn very quickly, and try new things that have changed the way we approach treatment for this virus,” said Dr. Kyle Enfield, a professor and physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine who has helped to coordinate clinical trials at UVA Health.

        “We are seeing clinical research happen at a speed that has never been seen before, both for drug therapies and vaccine development,” Dr. Linda Duska, associate dean for clinical research in the School of Medicine, said. “We’ve also seen funding and the regulatory apparatus really adapt to this pandemic while maintaining rigorous standards.”

        Duska and Enfield both expressed gratitude to the community for supporting the clinical trials, particularly to patient volunteers from communities of color and the clinical research coordinators who work to support them and their families.

        Because the pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color, it is critically important that those communities are well represented in clinical trials. However, “many do not trust medical research because of a long history of abuse of Black and Latino bodies in medicine,” Enfield said. When recruiting volunteers, UVA Health has focused on building trust and creating clinical trials representative of the patient populations they serve.

        “I am so grateful to our volunteers and to the trial coordinators, researchers and clinicians working to gain and keep their trust,” he said. …” See Research That Saves Live: Four Covid – 19 therapies Being Tested at UVA at UVAToday

        Or this linked into the above:

        “Learning in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Researchers, Clinicians Weigh In

        “Q. As more people become infected, will we develop herd immunity?

        A. To develop herd immunity, about 80% of the population must become infected and immune. It’s a long and dangerous road; as many people will get severely sick and die along the way.

        The challenge will be finding vaccines that give long-lasting, durable immunity. In non-novel coronavirus, immunity can last two to three years at best. With the novel coronavirus, studies indicate that immunity may start declining within several months. We will need to innovate a vaccine that provides long-lasting immunity.”

        (Note, are these scare tactics, promoting self interests?)

        Q. Why are African Americans and Hispanic Americans so disproportionately affected by COVID-19?

        A. Simply put, systemic racism. We cannot discuss the issue of increased morbidity and mortality amongst racial minorities without mentioning [political, social and health] inequities negatively charged toward racial minority communities: financial insecurities, housing inequities, industrialization and environmental racism, food deserts, under-resourced educational systems, and lack of health care access being a few. …”

        (Is this medicine, or virulent grievance political, racism, disguised as medicine?)

  7. I doubt that Ryan or the BOV knew how UVA compared to other schools prior to the NYT article and basically what they were touting was that UVA escaped a major outbreak and disaster.

    Yes, it was PR and that’s a normal, expected, and long standing behavior among virtually all such institutions.

    It WILL take a much more comprehensive study to really nail down specifics – at which point, it will be mostly moot anyhow.

    The CDC did/does provide guidance for Colleges:

    Even then, the NYT (same paper) is also reporting :

    ” Young People Have Less Covid-19 Risk, but in College Towns, Deaths Rose Fast

    Links between university outbreaks and deaths in the wider community are often indirect and difficult to document, but some health experts say there are clear signs of a connection.”

    Did that happen in Cville?

    At the end of this, how much does it really matter if some schools did better (or worse) than others – especially given the disputes about what to do or not?

    Critics will, as expected, use any adverse information against UVA and the BOV and the Administration and BOV will do their usual PR.

    • The issue is that no competent CEO would make a presentation to his or her board of directors without factual backup. And no competent board of directors would simply accept the qualitative declaration of excellence from a CEO.

      The moral of this story is that the University of Virginia’s Board of Rubber Stampers does not exercise independent governance over UVa in the same manner that a corporate board would be expected to exercise governance over a publicly traded corporation. Consideration for the BoV seems largely based on a long running willingness to make large political contributions to the party in power.

      Jim Ryan is not elected nor is the Board of Visitors. The question for our elected officials is this … if the BoV is not an independent governance body representing the citizens of Virginia then who is representing he citizens of Virginia regarding UVa?

    • “I doubt that Ryan or the BOV knew how UVA compared to other schools prior to the NYT article and basically what they were touting was that UVA escaped a major outbreak and disaster.”

      Of course he knew. Every Virginia school and most larger schools in the country have had COVID Dashboards since the beginning of the fall semester. The NYT was simply aggregating those reports. Ryan undoubtedly knew and he knew UVA hadn’t done as well on a percentage basis as many other schools.

      I don’t disagree he was counting success at not having to go completely remote. (That would have cost UVA quite a bit of money had it happened early, so it was also a financial benefit.)

      • Of course Ryan knew. And the BoV knew too. The error of some on this blog is to assume that the BoV would actually push Ryan to defend his account of COVID-19 success. Nobody provides any governance over UVa. Ryan can do what he pleases and say what he wants. Unsurprisingly, Ryan throws his shoulder out of joint patting himself on the back while the puerile Board of Visitors applauds.

  8. Oh to bring back Dragas……….. 😉

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