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Charlotte universities, colleges still on track to reopen despite COVID case surge

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 12/31/2021 Anna Maria Della Costa, The Charlotte Observer

Despite a rising wave of Mecklenburg County COVID-19 cases, local colleges and universities still plan on opening their spring semesters on schedule.

With more than a week left before spring classes start, none of the schools have announced changes in their plans for the new semester.

On Thursday, North Carolina recorded its highest daily number ever of COVID cases, adding more than 18,500 new cases. Shortages in COVID-19 tests, meanwhile, are straining emergency medical resources in Mecklenburg County, health experts say.

UNC Charlotte’s Buffie Stephens, the director of issues management and media relations, said Thursday that Charlotte is monitoring the “evolving situation with the Omicron variant closely.” Its new semester starts Jan. 10.

Charlotte is not requiring vaccinations and boosters, but officials are requiring students and employees without vaccination and booster shots to participate in re-entry and mitigation testing after winter break.

“Beginning Jan. 4, anyone who is vaccinated and is eligible for a booster but has not received one must participate in re-entry testing and ongoing mitigation testing until a booster shot is received,” according to a notice outlining changes to campus testing requirements.

Keith Pierce, the director of public relations and communication for Queens University of Charlotte, told the Observer that the spring semester is also still scheduled to begin Jan. 10.

But in a message to students and university staff on Dec. 16, the senior leadership team at Queens said it will require COVID-19 booster shots for all students, faculty and staff by Feb. 15, or as soon as people are eligible.

“We were able to maintain our in-person experiences throughout the (first) term because of your care for one another shown by masking up, getting vaccinated, and supporting each other,” the leadership team wrote.


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Central Piedmont Community College is also still scheduled to begin its spring semester Jan. 10, according to its website. The college isn’t requiring vaccinations or boosters but is strongly encouraging its students and staff to get vaccinated.

CPCC does not ask students to provide vaccination status but does have an indoor mask requirement.

N.C. State requires tests for unvaccinated

Across the state, Raleigh’s News & Observer reported this week that N.C. State University students and staff who are not vaccinated must get tested when returning to campus for the first day of classes on Jan. 10.

All students living in campus dorms and apartments or in Greek Village must also get tested, regardless of vaccination or booster status, the university announced Monday.

Duke University announced Friday that all classes will be remote until Jan. 18 instead of Jan. 10, the previously announced date. Residence halls will open as planned on Sunday, but Duke strongly encouraged on-campus residents to delay their return to as late as Jan. 18.

“Duke’s infectious disease and public health experts have advised us to anticipate that a large number of students will test positive during campus entry testing next week, requiring them to isolate in accordance with the new CDC guidelines,” the statement said. “We also anticipate that positive test results, isolation periods and caregiving responsibilities affecting our faculty and staff will have an impact on campus operations and services as the semester begins.”

In Fayetteville, Methodist University announced this week that officials will push back its 2022 spring semester start date for undergraduate on-campus residential and commuter students by one week, from Jan. 10 to Jan. 18.

In a message to the MU community, President Stanley Wearden noted the “extraordinarily fast” rise of the Omicron variant nationally.

“I am certain we will have cases on our campus this spring, but as promised all along, we are working daily to remain as open as possible while also being as safe as possible,” he said. “Delaying the full opening of campus by a week affords us multiple opportunities to mitigate risk.”

MU moved to mandatory vaccinations in October, a move that officials said kept reported COVID-19 cases on campus “at zero for a majority of the weeks since.” The university is also rolling out a phased return-to-campus plan for faculty, staff, and students this spring that includes COVID-19 testing and reporting.

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