Students at Western Carolina University are scheduled to return to campus this weekend, promising a busier than normal atmosphere across Jackson County. Western Carolina University has taken precautions for move in amid COVID19, however classes will resume as normal beginning August 17.
According to the university’s website, students are encouraged to pack lightly when moving into the dorms, and are reminded that at any time, the in-person instruction on campus could change due to COVID19.
“We strongly encourage students to bring minimal items when moving in for fall. This is a recommendation that we make to students each and every year, but we want to emphasize even more so this year,” reads the website. “Although we are planning for and hopeful that students will remain on campus throughout each semester in the coming year, the possibility remains that students could need to return home quickly and should be able to move their belongings out in a short amount of time.”
Students are also limited to the number of people allowed to assist during the move in process, with only two individuals being allowed to be present with each student. Students are also required to sign up for a specific move in time slot by July 28 to spread out the number of people on campus at one time.
WCU has also implemented modifications to how students are able to socialize while in the residence halls, with requirements being set forth in attempt to lessen the chance for transmission of COVID-19. With this reality, changes to policies and procedures in the residence halls for the 2020-2021 year are intended to encourage as much social distancing as possible.
Residents will be expected to maintain the recommended six feet distance between themselves and others at all times. Elevators will be limited to 2 passengers per car.
Where possible, all community kitchens, lounges, studies, and lobby spaces will be locked and not accessible to residents. Closure of these spaces serves several purposes, but most importantly, this step removes areas where groups gather, while also providing more time for housekeeping to focus on cleaning and disinfecting high-touch spaces.
Visitation in WCU residence halls will be suspended for the 2020-2021 academic year. Students will not be allowed to bring guests, including other students, into their residence halls. Students living in the same residence hall will be able to visit one another, but each room may only have one guest at a time.
Students returning to campus will not have to have a COVID19 test prior to being allowed to enter campus, however student athletes were required to be tested and quarantine for 7 days before allowing to return to sports this Summer.
Western Carolina University announced last week that several members of the Catamount football team tested positive after arriving on campus.
“Catamount Athletics welcomed back a limited number of student-athletes in sports that have NCAA-permissible summer access last week,” reads a paragraph included in the Campus Update. “Those student-athletes, as well as coaches and staff who work in the closest proximity with those individuals, were initially screened and tested for COVID-19 by health care professionals from Harris Regional Hospital.
Seven out of 145 (4.83%) tests administered returned positive results for COVID-19 – which closely aligns with the current average locally within Jackson County for positive cases (4.15%) and is below the current State of North Carolina average (8%) – with each result coming from asymptomatic individuals;
All individuals who tested positive, and those identified as close contacts using the CDC definition for contact tracing, have been quarantined as per protocols and measures outlined in CDC guidelines.”
Despite seven students testing positive, the Jackson County Department of Public Health Department did not identify the school as a cluster. According to Jackson County Health Director Melissa McKnight, that is because it is unlikely the students contracted COVID19 from campus.
“The student athletes were required to quarantine for 7 days prior to arriving to campus and were tested upon arrival,” said McKnight. “Since the student athletes had little to no interaction with each other prior to testing, we have not found a plausible linkage between the cases. It is more likely that those who tested positive were exposed to and contracted the virus from people other than their student athlete peers. As we continue our investigation, we may learn new information that changes our assessment. At this time, we have not identified a cluster at WCU.”
WCU noted that around 5 percent of student athletes tested positive, which aligns with the county average for percent positive. Student athletes were required to quarantine and be tested when arriving on campus, something average students will not be required to do. If the same percentage of average students are positive when returning to campus as student-athletes were, around 225 of the campuses 4,500 on-campus students would be positive.
The university has been developing protocols in consultation with Jackson County Department of Public Health officials for diagnostic COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. University Health Services will administer COVID-19 diagnostic tests based on CDC criteria and will implement screening guidelines. Patients will be required to call Health Services (828.227.7640) before visiting the Bird Building. Testing is also available from local health care providers. WCU will support and cooperate with Jackson County Department of Public Health’s leadership on contact tracing.