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UNCW updates students, requires negative Covid-19 test as spring semester approaches

UNCW will still require negative Covid-19 results from students prior to campus reentry, but the test window will now be the five days prior to reentry, rather than 72 hours. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

WILMINGTON — In anticipation of students returning for the spring semester, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington detailed operational plans, involving the move-in period and pandemic-related measures in a Friday afternoon announcement. 

Students enrolled in on-campus classes must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within five days of their return to campus. Previously, UNCW announced the window should be 72 hours before campus reentry. 

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Move in days are Jan. 15-16 and Jan. 19. The first day of class is Wednesday, Jan. 20.

“The decision to allow for 5 days was made in consultation with our local health officials, and the recognition that 72 hours may be more difficult as we get closer to the start of classes across the state,” according to the UNCW announcement

Off-campus students are subject to the requirement too, and will be given wristbands, which they are asked to wear until Jan. 22, to indicate they’ve tested negative. 

UNCW will host 3,600 classes in the spring semester, with 60% of those online and 15% face-to-face. A quarter of the classes will be blended, according to the university. 

The administrator overseeing the Student Health Center and the university’s Covid-19 response, Katrin Wesner-Harts, said the guidance has largely stayed constant, centered around social distancing and mask-wearing.

“I think we recognize that we spent a lot of time on mechanics,” Wesner-Harts said in a previous interview. “And they were all critically important, but the piece that we need to really focus on, for spring, is the personal piece.”

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Wesner-Harts said since details of running a socially distanced campus were ironed out in the fall, promoting connectivity among community members, many of whom will be taking classes from home, will be a priority this semester.

She added that some first-year students will be living in double rooms again, while most will be in single-occupancy rooms. UNCW separated first year students in double occupancy rooms in September, as part of an effort to “de-densify” campus amid increases in daily positive cases.

Universities are showing an eagerness to join the vaccination effort, and inoculations in New Hanover County began in late December. The University of North Carolina System, which oversees the state’s 16 public universities, is disseminating 61 freezers suitable for vaccine storage to its institutions. UNCW obtained three of those freezers, which offer a storage capacity of over 100,000 two-milliliter vials.

“The university also is prepared to assist county health officials as they work to administer vaccines,” the UNCW announcement said. “Our campus has served as a vaccination site in the past, and if our campus health experts are offered the opportunity to provide that service again, we will let you know.”

UNCW released its update one day after N.C.’s flagship university UNC Chapel Hill announced a three-week delay for in-person classes. A UNCW spokesperson said Friday that UNCW is not pursuing a similar route at this time. 

The announcement stated that students living in residence halls who haven’t had their test results cleared, “will be escorted out and will be referred to the Office of the Dean of Students for a potential violation of our student Code of Conduct.

The university worked alongside Wilmington Police Department to crack down on large parties early on in the fall semester, and some cases resulted in university disciplinary actions. Wesner-Harts said enforcement is an important part of the formula, but the university doesn’t wish to rely upon it to create compliance.

“I’ve heard others say, and I’ve heard in other things, we can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” she said. “Is there a role for enforcement? Sure. But is there also a role for prevention and education? Absolutely.”

The university will also be testing some individuals for free after move-in time. According to the release: 

“The Student Health Center will offer free testing for faculty and staff who are primarily working and teaching on campus on Thursday, January 21 and Friday, January 22 in the Burney Center from 9 a.m. – noon and 1 – 4:30 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. A UNCW ID will be required. Please be prepared to wait at least 45 minutes for test results.”

Between Dec. 24 and Jan. 4, 17 students and two faculty members were diagnosed with Covid-19, according to a university spokesperson and the Covid-19 dashboard. 

“One positive test was reported over the break that was related to athletics,” the spokesperson said. 

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