Thanks to more complete information and planning lead time, the University of North Carolina Wilmington is in a better position to start the new semester safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic than it was in the fall.
So said Katrin Wesner-Harts, UNCW’s interim associate vice chancellor for student affairs, on Tuesday.
“Our main goal is to have students know their [virus] status prior to returning to campus,” Wesner-Harts said.
She explained that at the beginning of this past fall semester, there was no agreed-upon testing protocol, but that during the past few months, colleges and universities across the nation and within the UNC system have generally accepted similar protocols.
The university has formulated a detailed plan for testing, isolating and quarantining for the spring semester, which begins Jan. 19.
UNCW’s resident students and nonresident students who take on-campus classes or who spend time on campus will be required to present proof of a recent negative COVID test. In exchange, they will get a wristband they will be asked to wear until Jan. 22.
Those unable to get a test before returning to campus will be tested the first week of classes. Students who test positive for the virus are asked not to return to school but to contact the Student Health Center. Faculty and staff members with a positive test result are asked to contact their supervisors.
Surveillance testing will be available weekly this semester to any member of the campus community who wants it, said Wesner-Harts, adding that UNCW will continue to emphasize the three Ws: wearing a mask, washing hands frequently and waiting 6 feet apart.
“We were so successful in the fall; we were able to complete the semester and hold graduation,” she said. “We know we are asking a lot; we [recognize] that we’re [telling people] ‘Change every routine you know.’”
To reinforce changes in behavior there will be “lots of reminders around campus,” Wesner-Harts said, with rewards for people who are caught “doing it right.”
“We have more than 100 hand sanitizer stations on campus. We have quarantine and isolation spaces on campus. People have learned to use Zoom in teams and have embraced that. There are so many pieces to this, but the Health Care Center and Counseling Center are here to help.”
What won’t change this semester are restrictions put in place last fall about gatherings, Wesner-Harts said.
“All of those things we were doing in the fall we are continuing to do,” she added. “Indoor gatherings are capped at 10 people; 25 for outdoors. We’re encouraging student groups to meet online via Zoom, and there will be no public in-person events. We’ll offer Curbside Cinema again [for the public].”
Curbside Cinema, a collaboration of UNCW’s Office of the Arts, Cucalorus, the StarNews and WHQR and held in the Kenan Auditorium parking lot, screens its next film Jan. 22
The university will offer more than 3,600 classes this semester, according to a Friday news release. Nearly 15% of those classes will be held in person; 60% will be entirely online, with the remainder conducted in a hybrid fashion consisting of both in-person and online components.
Wesner-Harts said university officials are “obviously very excited” about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
“We’re encouraging everyone to get vaccinated when it’s their turn, and we are happy to facilitate that process [with New Hanover County] and help any way we can,” she said. “Students are in Group 3 and that will be a while, but we’re hoping it will be before the semester ends.”
The university could play a role in helping New Hanover County with the vaccination process, Wesner-Harts suggested. For example, it could serve as a vaccine storage facility.
UNCW is one of 15 North Carolina research universities slated to receive three freezers capable of preserving both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines at their required sub-zero temperatures.
“They should arrive later this month or in early February,” she said. “In the end, when they are no longer needed for the vaccines, researchers on campus can keep them.”
for details on UNCW's COVID-related procedures and plans for the semester.