UNCW sees low Covid-19 spread after spending half a million dollars on rapid tests

A student works on her laptop as she waits in line for a Covid-19 rapid test at UNCW. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

WILMINGTON — As UNCW students returned to campus for the spring semester, Covid-19 spread has been more tempered than it was in mid-August, when surging case counts followed the fall semester kickoff.

The university reported 135 student cases in the first seven days of September, while only 20 students tested positive for the virus during the first week of February, according to the university’s Covid-19 dashboard.

Mandatory testing for students prior to the start of classes gave the university more assurances that community spread would be minimal at the outset. Students could only move into campus residences and start in-person classes after presenting a negative Covid-19 test to the university.  


On Jan.19, the day before spring classes started, the university reported 27 new student cases. Since then, the number has only once risen above 10. 

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Students who test positive for Covid-19, or self-report to the university that they were likely exposed, are temporarily moved into Galloway Hall. The university’s oldest dormitory was repurposed for quarantine and isolation space. 

Galloway occupancy reached its fall semester peak on Sept. 8 when 71 of its 150 beds were filled. As of Feb. 7, 13 students are living in Galloway. 

While Covid-19 testing for students was optional last semester, the university recently announced a comprehensive program for regularly testing the campus population. Students living on campus are now tested weekly, and students who take in person classes but commute to campus will be tested bi-weekly.

According to Katrin Wesner-Harts, the university’s top health official, the men and women’s basketball teams are tested three times a week during the season. 

To fuel the testing program, the university purchased 100,000 Covid-19 rapid tests for $500,000 from the technology company Abbott. The tests will be delivered in three batches during the semester. The first arrived Monday, Feb. 8. Harts said the university expects to test 6,500 students weekly.

Neither of these programs, the re-entry testing nor regularly scheduled surveillance testing, were commonplace at universities in August. Multiple schools in the University of North Carolina System closed campuses after Covid-19 swarmed the student populations. UNCW did not cease campus operations, but opted to “de-densify” campus by separating first year students in double occupancy rooms. Many of those students returned to the parents’ house, while others were housed elsewhere on campus. 

RELATED: UNCW welcomes students to campus — and hopes to keep them there

On the vaccination front, a University of North Carolina System initiative purchased three freezers — capable of storing the Covid-19 vaccine — for UNCW.  One of the freezers has been delivered, and UNCW is coordinating with New Hanover County to transfer the freezer to the county so it can be deployed in the local vaccination scene. 


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