What we know: UNC System schools’ COVID-19 plans

Xanayra Marin-Lopez, Reporter

The 17-school UNC System is slowly closing each of its institutions as university dashboards report more COVID-19 cases and clusters. Students are learning of changes through school emails while keeping the possibility of leaving campus in mind. UNC System President Peter Hans issued a statement Aug. 17 after UNC Chapel Hill transitioned to online instruction. 

Hans said the decision applies only to the Tar Heels because “no other UNC System institution has reported information, at this time, that would lead to similar modifications.” 

As of Aug. 25, no decision has been made to suspend in-person classes for the entire UNC System and go fully remote. UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University are currently operating with online instruction only. Follow along for an updated list of plans for each school. 

Appalachian State University: Out of students and employees, App State has 36 active cases of COVID-19. Classes are being offered in person, online, and in hybrid formats upon professor’s discretion. 

Students say Boone’s current social scene has COVID-19 risks. Parties and social gatherings are still taking place despite social distancing guidelines.

In an Aug. 23 email, App State admitted that COVID-19 cases are expected to increase with the beginning of the fall semester.

App State sent an email to students notifying them of a cluster associated with the football team Aug. 18. Athletic Director Doug Gillin suspended practice after the announcement, however, the team returned Friday in pods. 

Chancellor Sheri Everts wrote to the App State community via email on the first day of class. In response to UNC Chapel Hill moving online, Everts said she is confident in App State’s numbers. 

In Evert’s week of Aug. 17–22 message she mentioned speaking with NCDHHS secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. According to Evert’s, Cohen was “complimentary of Appalachian’s extensive preparations and safety measures.”

When reached out to Chief Communications Officer Megan Hayes for comment, The Appalachian was directed to Evert’s Monday message.

The email referenced a pop-up testing session for students living on-campus and at Student Health Services last week. Out of 2,006 tests, 27 came back positive. Of the available isolation and quarantine space, the chancellor said 86% is currently available with additional options if needed.

East Carolina University: Starting Aug. 26, ECU moved all classes online. The school’s most recent cluster was discovered Aug. 24 in Jones and White Residence Hall.

Located in Greenville, ECU’s most recent COVID-19 clusters were found in two residence halls. Jones and White Hall have six cases each. (Photo courtesy of ECU News Services)

Two days before, clusters were identified in Garret, Fletcher, Fleming, Tyler and Greene Residence Hall. Another cluster was found in Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.

Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson published a message to East Carolina faculty and staff addressing UNC Chapel Hill’s decision to move online. He referenced guidance from the UNC System to continue on-campus instruction. 

As of Aug. 25, there were 262 positive tests within the past week. 

Elizabeth City State University: Last updated Aug. 17, ECSU’s COVID-19 dashboard read two active cases in employees and five students. 

The university has not given any coronavirus related updates since June 2. The school’s website said that a majority of classes will be remote or offered in a hybrid format. They plan to shift online if federal, state or local authorities determine so. 

Fayetteville State University: Fourteen students and two employees as of Aug. 24 have confirmed COVID-19 cases at FSU. The school opened Aug. 19 offering classes in-person.

Interim Chancellor Peggy Valentine shared a message to the school’s website directed toward the Bronco community. Valentine said she visited classrooms and saw every student wearing a facial covering. Faculty members are teaching behind desk shields.

“It is indeed a different year; yet we anticipate new innovations and much success,” Valentine said. 

North Carolina A&T State University: Both in-person and online classes are taking place at NC A&T. 

Last updated Aug. 18, the university’s dashboard shows 5 positive cases in students and one employee for Aug. 6- 20.

Chancellor Harold Martin recently spoke to TIME Magazine about opening the nation’s largest HBCU. Martin said he feels “guarded but comfortable” about the student’s return.

Martin added that those living in dorms have been checked for symptoms. 

North Carolina Central University: NCCU Chancellor Johnson Akinleye encouraged students to “Protect the Nest” upon their return to campus. The university’s dashboard, last updated Aug. 24, showed nine positive cases in students, seven in employees and one subcontractor. These have been identified as all cases since July 1.

The school is offering face-to-face, hybrid and online classes.

North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics: NCSSM is taking a phased approach at reopening the residential high school. 

The lower-density model involves two cohorts of students moving in on different dates. The first group moved in on Aug. 21. The second group is scheduled to move in Oct. 6 after the departure of the first group of students. 

For the week of Aug. 23-29, there are no active cases

The option was given to students to take their classes fully online or complete half of their fall semester residential and the other half online, as outlined in the phased approach. 

In-person classes will have online components and some courses are being offered fully online. 

North Carolina State University: For the remainder of the fall semester, North Carolina State University undergraduate classes will take place online, the school decided Aug. 20. It was the second school to make this decision. University housing plans to remain open, giving students the option to stay living on campus while taking remote courses, according to The Technician.

Other forms of instruction, such as clinical education and graduate studies, are continuing in person and in hybrid formats.

COVID-19 clusters have stemmed from greek life houses, on and off campus housing, athletics and more. The university announced three new clusters on Monday. 

UNC Asheville: UNC Asheville is continuing its current combination of in-person, online and hybrid courses this semester. There were no new cases reported as of Aug. 21, but a campus update from Chancellor Nancy Cable and Provost Garikai Campbel Aug. 17 reported three confirmed cases. 

“Taking personal responsibility and enforcing community health standards to mitigate the virus are essential for the success of all of us this semester and for the protection of public health in our region,” the administration wrote.

UNC Chapel Hill: After a week of classes starting Aug. 10, UNC Chapel Hill was the first UNC System school to close, with 177 total cases at the time of transition to online. Undergraduate students exclusively went online Aug 17. 

Other graduate and professional schools face their own direction. COVID-19 clusters were found in resident locations on and off-campus. According to the university’s news and updates, they expect to continue to reduce occupancy in all residence halls. Students living on campus were sent home.

UNC Charlotte: While students have not moved in yet, three cases total exist on UNC Charlotte’s campus. 

The first day of class was moved to Oct. 1.

Chancellor Sharon Gaber shared a message before the first day of classes, Sept. 7, after NC State decided to move online. Gaber said there is no plan that will meet everyone’s needs. 

“I have heard from many of you about a desire to move to all online instruction, while many others have reached out to express your excitement about in-person campus life and classes.”

She said the university is in active discussion with the UNC System and public health officials to assess all options. 

UNC Greensboro: There are nine total cases among students, faculty and staff at UNC Greensboro for the week of Aug. 17-23. Classes are in-person, online and hybrid. 

UNCG’s on-campus move in consisted of two phases and social distancing. (Photo courtesy of UNCG University Communications Digital Library)

For their first week of classes, the university updated the UNCG community in an Aug. 24 message. UNC System President Peter Hans was mentioned as making it clear that “operational decisions will be made discretely at each campus based on collaborative discussions between the campus, the UNC System office, and public health officials.”

UNC Pembroke: 63 students and 3 employees have active cases at UNCP as of Aug. 24. All cases are in isolation. Chancellor Robin Cummings responded to the high numbers in a campus message to students Aug. 20.

“These numbers certainly are concerning, but I can share that very few cases, if any, are directly linked to the classroom environment,” Cummings said.

Cummings then attributed the increase in cases to off-campus events in partnership with the Robeson County Health Department.

 The school has a number of ways it’s offering instruction, including face-to-face, hybrid, alternative hybrid, fully online, synchronous, asynchronous and blended online. 

UNC School of the Arts: The public arts undergraduate and high school has one student and two staff members with active cases as of Aug. 24. Majors offered in dance, drama, filmmaking and more are using a hybrid instructional model for the fall semester. 

UNC Wilmington:  Chancellor Jose Sartarelli released a message to the Seahawks Aug. 21 after the start of their semester.

 Sartarelli urged students not to gather in large groups. He said off-campus social gatherings have been taking place.

“Students, as we approach the weekend, a time when you would naturally want to gather together with friends, I must ask you to think very carefully about the choices you are about to make,” the chancellor said.

The UNCW and Wilmington Police Department will address events in neighborhoods near campus that violate social distancing guidelines and government mandates.

 An active case count could not be found on their website, but UNCW reports a cumulative 27 students and 3 faculty and staff cases since July. 

Western Carolina University: 28 students and 3 subcontractors have COVID-19 at WCU for the week of Aug. 17-23. The first day of classes included face-to-face, online and hybrid instruction. The university’s operation and procedures website says this will provide “meaningful face-to-face interactions between faculty and students while meeting social distancing protocols and/or effective online instruction as necessary.”

A three hour course will have face-to-face meetings and two online meetings per week. In-person instruction will maintain social distancing. 

Winston-Salem State University: Within the last week, there have been three on-campus and two remote students with COVID-19 cases at Winston-Salem State. 

WSSU is offering courses in various formats similar to other UNC System schools. (Photo courtesy of Winston-Salem State University)

The university is enforcing 20 minute transition times between classes so as to not create an overflow of students in academic buildings. The school is emphasizing professors use the  hybrid approach to instruction. 

Each campus is taking precautions differently as their numbers vary. In UNC System President Peter Hans’s Aug. 17 statement, he encouraged personal responsibility and community standards to combat the virus.  

“In any circumstance, we will be grounded by reliable public health data and prevailing local health conditions,” the newly-elected president wrote. “I will continue to stay in close contact with our chancellors and fully support their efforts to fulfill our core educational mission in safe learning environments.”