East Carolina University students, faculty and staff will enjoy their first fall break since the COVID-19 pandemic began on Oct. 9, but concerns have been raised around possible COVID-19 exposures while away.
The break is scheduled from Oct. 9 to Oct. 12 and students have the weekend along with Monday and Tuesday off from class. To keep levels of the COVID-19 virus on campus down, ECU conducts weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated students and carries out contact tracing from seating charts in classrooms.
Nikki Nichols, a communication professor, originally thought COVID-19 was going to be short term and be gone after spring break of 2020. After explaining how the teaching dynamic changed throughout the pandemic, Nichols said that she doesn’t think the university will be going online as a result of a possible rise of COVID-19 cases.
“We saw a spike (in COVID-19) when students first came back (on campus in fall 2021), and people were holding their breath to see if we could ride the surge...I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw something similar to that happen,” said Nichols.
Nichols said she thinks that between the contact tracing and testing protocols at ECU, the university is doing more now than ever to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
There have been a reported 1,472 cases in the student body since January 2021. There were 43 student COVID-19 cases in a one-week span prior to Oct. 5, according to the ECU’s Public COVID-19 Dashboard.
“I think between contact tracing and their testing protocol, they are doing a lot more now than they were...There may be a surge but I don’t see it impacting the overall university shutdown or online classes,” Nichols said.
Cynthia Bickley-Green, a professor in the School of Art and Design, said based on possible student exposure to COVID-19 she hopes that students practice the same procedures as they are on campus when they are off campus.
Bickley-Green said she remains optimistic and believes the campus will stay open and that students will follow university protocol off-campus.
“I thought we could be online in two weeks, but I think they’re keeping it (ECU) open, and I think students are more serious,” Bickley-Green said.
Some students, such as junior finance major Carlos Hernandez, plan to stay in Greenville and limit activities.
“I honestly just want to chill and not do anything during the break,” Hernandez said.
Freshman criminal justice major Abie Ramirez said she plans on traveling to see her family and friends. She said she plans to be socially distant and wear a face mask during the fall break.
Ramirez said she has hopes that classes will remain in person after the break but he believes there is always a possibility of going back fully online.
“Right now, everything seems to be okay, but I wouldn't put it past them to go online, I'm hoping not but maybe, there's always a chance,” Ramirez said.
Students are required to wear masks while in campus buildings and are encouraged to wear them when social distancing is not possible regardless of their vaccination status, according to the Return of Pirate Nation website.
A few students have also expressed their concerns about the possible surge of COVID-19 cases when they return to campus from fall break. Students traveling to and from places that are potential COVID-19 hotspots could affect how classes and campus events will continue.
Senior psychology major Erica Hollis said she believes that students will have more exposure to COVID-19 during the fall break. Hollis said she doesn't feel like people will follow COVID-19 protocols to remain safe while on break.
“COVID-19 cases will rise (because) I just don’t feel like people are going to take the necessary protocols to stay safe,” Hollis said.
As for the university’s potential for transitioning back online like the previous semesters due to the rise of cases, Hollis said she believes that it will ultimately happen. She said classes are big and students can’t sit six feet away from each other. The high density of ECU transit buses makes it feel like it’s back to normal operation pre-COVID-19 pandemic, Hollis said.
Nikalia Clark, sophomore biology major said she is hopeful that everything will remain the same after the break. She feels like there has been improvement in regards to students following the COVID-19 guidelines on campus.
“I don’t think we will go back online, I feel like they’re (ECU) trying the best they can to keep us on campus and safe.”