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Coronavirus disrupts North Carolina colleges

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PEMBROKE — Students at a local college are getting an extra week for Spring Break.

Officials at UNC Pembroke announced in an email Wednesday afternoon that the annual break would be extended by one week so faculty and staff can work “to prepare for alternative course delivery methods, where necessary” in response to the coronavirus.

The email was sent just after the UNC System issued a press release updating coronavirus preparations.

System officials are coordinating with public health officials to monitor the virus and prepare for the impact it could have on state college campuses.

“Universities provide environments where large numbers of people interact and congregate,” reads the press release. “Practicing tried and true methods for maintaining good health, and being vigilant without overreacting, will help individuals remain healthy and help minimize the impact of the virus.”

While the colleges will remain open and “continue to deliver high-quality instruction for our students,” system officials are “working to maximize flexibility in how we deliver education in order to limit the potential impact of the coronavirus at our institutions.”

The following guidance has been issued to all institutions in the UNC System:

  • All UNC System institutions will transition from in-person instruction to a system of alternative course delivery, where possible and practical, no later than March 20. Alternative course delivery will begin on March 23 and last indefinitely. Our goal is to return to in-person instruction as soon as reasonably possible. Each institution will communicate the specific details to its students and faculty.
  • University leadership will determine which classes, such as those with labs, will continue to require in-person instruction and attendance.
  • Outside events and gatherings of 100 or more people will be cancelled or postponed unless otherwise authorized by a chancellor or provost.
  • University-sponsored in-state travel to gatherings of 100 or more people is suspended, and all travel outside the state is suspended, unless otherwise authorized by a chancellor or provost.

“UNC System institutions are thriving and supportive communities, ready to adapt quickly as circumstances evolve,” the release concludes. “We remain focused on the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, and the delivery of our core academic mission.”

Also on Wednesday, NCAA President Mark Emmert issued a statement regarding restricting sporting events — including the upcoming championship tournaments — to “only essential staff and limited family attendance.”


“While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States,” Emmert said. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. 

“We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families,” he continued. “Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed.”

But it’s not just public universities issuing restrictions.

Wingate University, under the direction of the Union County Health Director, has announced that it will:

  • Suspend visits to campus by large outside groups.
  • Cancel academic/admissions events with large groups (i.e. Future Scholars Day, Become A Bulldog Day, etc.). 
  • Prohibit student groups and organizations from meeting in groups of more than 50 for regular meetings and events. Student groups and organizations should utilize technology when available to increase social distance.
  • Require faculty to begin utilizing Canvas for classes with 50 or more students so that these may be accessed online (effective 3.12.20 at 8 a.m.)
  • Host outdoor, in-season athletic events as normal (monitor and adjust as needed).
  • Continue small group tours/visits to campus.
  • Eliminate the use of personal cups at all dining locations and rotate utensils, plates and glassware every 20 minutes.

Duke University on Tuesday — the same day Gov. Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency — asked that students on break not return for the rest of the semester. On Wednesday, college officials requested that staff members work remotely.

Richmond Community College has yet to make any scheduling or activity changes due to the coronavirus, according to Wiley Bell, director of marketing and communications. A meeting is scheduled for Thursday morning and more information should be available.

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, there has been one individual to test positive for coronavirus by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Six other cases are labeled “presumptive positive” and still have to be checked by another lab before confirmation.

More information can be found at the DHHS website.


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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.