UNCW students hope for a normal school year despite recent spike in cases

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 3:55 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Less than a week after classes began at UNCW, the university announced a cluster of COVID-19 cases in one residence hall and over two dozen students were staying in the designated quarantined residence hall already.

UNCW added 96 new cases of COVID-19 to its count on Monday alone. The current number of 179 positive cases is the school’s highest number since last fall.

“We have more students on campus, more faculty and staff on campus than we did last year, so I’m not surprised our numbers are higher,” said Dr. Katrin Wesner-Harts, the university’s director of student health. “To have 96 so quick was just surprising.”

The exact number of students in Sandpiper Hall who have COVID is unclear, but a cluster is at least five students. Following the university’s policy, they were all either sent home or moved to Galloway Hall to quarantine.

Those students are doing well despite feeling tired and achy from the virus. In total, the school’s dashboard reports 179 cases at UNCW. Some of those are people who are vaccinated, but the majority of those cases are in those who are unvaccinated.

You may remember getting a notification through text message or seeing a Facebook post about the cluster yesterday, but that will be the last time those updates are given directly.

“Last year, every time there was a cluster, we would send it out through your email and text and all those kinds of things,” said Dr. Wesner-Harts. “The standard now really has become that we can put it in one common place for people to look at.”

Cluster announcements will now be posted on UNCW’s COVID-19 information website, Best for the Nest. Updates will not be provided through email, text message or social media posts.

To slow the spread, the school has put a stop to visits from anyone that doesn’t live in a dorm and canceled its carnival planned for Wednesday.

“My friend just told me they canceled the carnival, “said UNCW junior Erick Mendiola. “He was really excited about it, but I guess that was a counter-measure to prevent spreading, which is smart of them.”

“It was the right thing to do,” said Dr. Wesner-Harts. “We just want to see if one — does this increase in cases continue? Was it a one-day fluke?”

The hope is that if students follow the updated guidelines, they can have a close-to-normal academic year.

“We want to preserve the ability to stay in the classroom and learn,” said Dr. Wesner-Harts. “We want to preserve the ability to live in the residence halls. We want to preserve the ability to have student organizations and meetings.”

Students hope their peers do their part by wearing masks and social distancing.

“I hope that people can respect it so we can have a school year,” said senior Tyler Carmer. “It’s my last year here. I want to have a good year here, I don’t want to get sent home again.”

Right now, the only indoor sport being played on campus is volleyball. Dr. Wesner-Harts says most fans at those matches have complied and worn masks in the gym. University leaders plan to meet soon to discuss if any new requirements are needed for outdoor sporting events.

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