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WCU switches to remote learning amid pandemic; UNCA sticks with blended classes

WCU 1.jpg

File photo of the Western Carolina University campus. (Photo credit: WLOS)

One mountain university makes a last-minute change as schools prepare for the start of their Spring semesters. With COVID-19 still prevalent in the area, Western Carolina University now says it will begin with remote-only instruction.

Because of the recent surges in COVID-19 cases, and with and peaks expected over the next 2-3 weeks, classes at WCU will still start as scheduled on Jan. 25, but they will no longer be both in-person and remote.

Classes will be fully remote right through Feb. 12, the university announced.

That decision comes after review of coronavirus activity with UNC-system leaders, public health and local hospital representatives.

Western's provost said he does not want to see growing cases on campus, nor in the community.

“That would create a situation where we would fill our existing quarantine and isolation space very quickly, and we were concerned that that might force us to make a decision to go online for the semester,” said WCU Provost Richard Starnes.

In-class and remote learning will resume Feb. 15. Students will then be able to move in to residence halls beginning Feb. 6 after receiving a negative test in the prior 3-5 days.

Some Western student-athletes are already on campus.

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“The whole team had to get COVID tested and it had be negative in order to get back in our dorm rooms,” WCU freshman volleyball player Destinee Dorsey said Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Students who commute to campus, along with faculty and staff are urged to use testing and vaccine sites and to quarantine when appropriate.

Western is also applying to be a vaccine site.

“We’re hoping to facilitate vaccinations as soon as vaccinations are available,” says Starnes.

On the other hand, UNC-Asheville announced it will stick with its original plan of blended classes.

“We will open on the 19th of January,” said UNC-Asheville Chancellor Nancy Cable.

Cable said the campus will open the Spring semester with a blend of in-person, remote and hybrid classes.

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The UNCA campus registered just 27 COVID cases among students and employees from August to November, which was the lowest in the UNC school system.

“Students caring for one another. Students and faculty respectfully also caring for one another,” Cable said regarding how UNCA was able to keep its coronavirus numbers so low.

Like Western, students returning to UNCA dorms must have negative tests in the prior 3-5 days.

There will also be no Spring break. Instead, 3 days are set aside in the semester as health-wellness days, meaning there will be no classes.

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COVID-19 will continue to be monitored closely, and the hope remains for an in-person commencement May 7.

“But we're not at all sure that the governor's orders will allow us to do that,” says Cable.

The Spring semester at WCU will still end as originally scheduled on May 14.

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