As the end of the fall semester approaches, East Carolina University officials have worked to ensure a safe spring semester amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with hopes to see students return.
Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson said ECU plans to have students return, but at a lower density than before. He said there will continue to be single occupancy in residence halls and classrooms will be reduced to 35% capacity, which is less compared to the previous 50% classroom capacity put in place for the fall semester.
“So it’s a significant reduction, further reduction in density in the classroom setting,” Mitchelson said. “So that’s one theme, right, in our return for the spring, reduced density.”
Mitchelson said the same guidelines that were set for the fall semester will remain in place, as well as the partnerships between the university, Greenville Police Department and ECU Police Department.
COVID-19 tests will be mandatory prior to move-in day for any student who returns to campus, according to Mitchelson. He said there will be weekly random sample testing of approximately 10% of students who live on-campus and accessible testing for those who live off-campus and choose to do so.
“We will invite off-campus students and employees to test,” Mitchelson said. “There won’t be any mandated for those two groups, that’s almost impossible to do anyway.”
Mitchelson said ECU will continue to monitor numbers and relative factors when it comes time to return to classroom settings in the spring and adjust to what is needed accordingly.
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Virginia Hardy said she expects the spring semester to be more active with students on campus as well as more campus activities. She said she hopes to welcome students back to campus but at a reduced classroom capacity and single room occupancy in dorms.
“I feel confident that students will comply with the guidelines and we don’t have any evidence to date that there were transmissions that took place on campus, in the classrooms, in the buildings other than within the residence halls,” Hardy said.
Guidelines will remain the same as they were when ECU began the fall semester, unless the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or North Carolina releases additional guidelines to follow, according to Hardy. She said she will continue to encourage the Three W’s which include waiting six feet apart, wearing a mask and washing hands.
Hardy said ECU continues to work through the best ways to bring students back to campus safely. She said there are discussions of testing protocols for those who return and effective screening opportunities for those who need it.
Hardy said testing students prior to their return to campus will help in terms of predicting numbers and initial COVID-19 cases before classes begin.
“We will make that option available to every student at East Carolina who wants to get tested to make sure that everything’s good as they come back into Greenville and back onto the campus,” Hardy said.
For those who test positive while at ECU, there will be quarantine and isolation units available on campus, according to Hardy. She said she continues to work to ensure those who do need to quarantine or isolate are taken care of, as to avoid separation and depression.
Hardy said the possibility of the return of students to campus in the spring semester is exciting to her, but it is going to take everybody in the university to do their part and make it happen.
Freshman elementary education major Addison Sessoms said she decided to remain on-campus this year after ECU transitioned to remote instruction and will remain on-campus throughout the spring semester.
“I enjoy still living here and yeah it’s single occupancy, there’s obviously not as many people that are still here,” Sessoms said.
Students who chose to remain on-campus for the remainder of the fall semester had to get tested for COVID-19 initially, Sessoms said. She said the tests have been administered alphabetically throughout the semester for the students who remain in the residence halls.
Sessoms said she hopes to see more activities back on campus in the spring, but hopes to see people follow the safety guidelines put in place by the university.
“Until we like start wearing masks and stuff and like following social distancing and everything, then it’s (COVID-19) not going to go away,” Sessoms said.