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Questions for UNCW as Covid-19 cases remain high, on and off campus

Covid-19 cases rose sharply last week.

It’s fair to say the Covid situation at University North Carolina Wilmington is suboptimal — prompting questions from readers and listeners about how the university is planning to adapt if need be.

This week, the University is seeing a rolling average of over 50 cases per day and nearly two-thirds of quarantine beds are still occupied (96 out of 150). Over the last ten days, there have been 224 off-campus and 263 on-campus student cases. The spike has been higher — and has risen faster — than last fall.

That’s less dire than last week — when the daily case numbers topped 120 and nearly three-quarters of the University’s quarantine beds were full, and clusters were identified in eight different residence halls. Those clusters were posted on UNCW’s ‘Best for the Nest’ web page, but weren’t included in social media posts, texts, or campus emails under a new policy rolled out on August 23 -- the same day that daily cases went from less than 5 to almost 100.

As with businesses and organizations across the country, some of the University’s administrative staff have been working remotely, but for students, it’s a different story: they are back in person for classes — and back in residence halls. And, while Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli instituted a mask requirement in late July, there’s been anecdotal evidence that those rules are being followed rather loosely in dorm common areas — and the case numbers seem to suggest the same thing.

In light of these numbers, WHQR checked in with the University to see if it was considering some FAQs we’ve heard from listeners and readers.

1) A vaccine mandate: Hundreds of universities and colleges around the country have rolled out some form of Covid-19 vaccine mandate (some are only for on-campus students). North Carolina law also requires vaccinations — for measles, mumps, rubella, etc. — for most public and private college students.

UNCW says it is following the guidance of UNC President Peter Hans, who wrote in late April that the system did not have the clear legal authority to add a Covid-19 vaccine to the list of requirements.

2) Moving classes online: According to a University spokesperson, “[t]he Provost, Deans and Department Chairs have developed guidance for faculty who may need to institute a temporary modality shift. The approach provides faculty with the flexibility necessary to accommodate their courses’ specific needs.”

3) Extending the refund or withdrawal period for students if classes were to be moved online: According to a UNCW spokesperson, staff is still working on answering this question.

4) Extending the mask mandate for outdoors: UNCW is using ‘encouragement’ over requirements here. According to spokesperson, “[u]nder CDC guidelines, we encourage individuals to wear face coverings outside when they are in large crowds and/or when they don’t know the vaccination status of others in attendance.”

5) Supporting faculty if they have to move their courses online again: According to a spokesperson, “[s]everal resource offices, including the Center for Teaching Excellence, are offering guidance to assist faculty. The university’s focus on in-person learning and on-campus living is a team effort, and faculty and staff across campus are working collaboratively to support these efforts.”

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature.