Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Indoor masking and surveillance testing will continue to be the norm at UNCW

UNCW will hold the course with mandatory masking and surveillance testing in the upcoming spring semester, university leaders announced Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Bradley Pearce/UNCW)

​​WILMINGTON – UNCW leadership plans to continue with its current slate of strategies designed to curb Covid-19 when students return to campus next year for the spring semester. 

Mandatory mask-wearing indoors and weekly testing requirements for unvaccinated students, faculty and staff will still be the norm, according to a Tuesday announcement from Chancellor Jose Sartarelli.

Katrin Wesner-Harts, the university’s top health official, overviewed the sustained guidelines to professors Tuesday afternoon during a virtual meeting of the UNCW Faculty Senate.  

“We’re going to start the spring very similar to where we are now,” Wesner-Harts said. 

Before the first day of classes on Jan. 12, all unvaccinated students, faculty and staff with a campus presence must undergo “return-to-campus testing,” and then submit to weekly tests thereafter. 

“We’re going to continue our indoor face-covering requirement as we return, and a lot of people have asked why,” Wesner-Harts added. “There’s a couple things. One is, we know that it’s a protective factor. We know that it’s protective against Covid, but we also have good reason to believe that’s why last year the flu, cases of the flu, were significantly down.”

Last week, 18 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed at UNCW, Wesner-Harts told faculty. Six of those were faculty and staff members. 

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in the number of faculty and staff that have been testing positive recently,” she said.

Wesner-Harts also relayed that of the 18 cases from last week, six of the individuals, or one-third, were vaccinated, “which is where we’ve been landing recently.”

UNCW reports 80% of residential students attending classes are vaccinated against Covid-19. The off-campus student rate is at 75%, and the faculty and staff vaccination rate is at 91%. 

“If you are hesitant to obtain vaccination for a variety of personal reasons, then our surveillance testing approach currently provides you with options to support the health of the campus community,” according to Sartarelli’s announcement. “You currently have the choice to be vaccinated or get tested.”

Masks are required at UNCW in classrooms and at indoor events, as well as on public transportation. They are also mandatory in dining areas, break rooms and other eateries: “Remove them only when actively eating or drinking and then replace them while sitting and talking with others,” reads language in the chancellor’s announcement.

The positivity rate of Covid-19 tests on campus is far lower than that of New Hanover County and North Carolina as a whole. Earlier in the fall semester, Wesner-Harts reported a sub-1% positivity rate at UNCW. 

New Hanover rescinded its county-wide mask mandate Nov. 12 after the positivity rate fell from above 10% to around 2.7%. It has since climbed back to 5.84%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The positivity rate statewide is now at 9.2%.

READ MORE: New Hanover County health board just barely decides to lift mask mandate

Wesner-Harts told Port City Daily last month, in response to a question about what would lead to reconsideration of the face covering guidance, that the “use of indoor masks represents an important piece of our comprehensive prevention strategy.”

“Before finalizing decisions for our spring COVID-19 protocols, we will continue to consider CDC and NCDHHS guidance as well as active case rates on campus, in the county and in the state,” she said.


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