East Carolina University officials said they will strictly enforce mask-wearing and rules against gatherings after students begin returning for the spring semester.
Move-in for students living on campus begins at 1 p.m. Thursday, although many took advantage of an early drop-period last weekend to move in their belongings. About 1,900 students will live in single-occupancy rooms and 32 percent of classes will be held in person when they start Jan. 19.
Officials during a news conference on Tuesday said they will require students to wear masks in most instances, even in dorm halls. They believe more students have bought into the culture of mask-wearing since spikes in COVID-19 in August forced ECU to send most students home and return to virtual instruction.
“People were going to the large gatherings and coming back into the residence halls, so we really want to get a lot more control and mitigate those large gatherings,” Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs, said. “What we found out from the fall is none of those transmissions or exposures happened in the classroom, so it was not a classroom issue. Most of those, as I said, were happening from outside and then came into the residence halls.”
ECU is moving ahead with in-person classes even as UNC-Chapel Hill and other state schools have delayed similar plans because of record-breaking infections and hospitalizations statewide.
Bill McCartney, ECU’s associate vice chancellor of campus living and dining services, said COVID positive cases were minimal inside residence halls after the university transitioned in late August and September to all single rooms. About 800 students remained in the dorms at that time.
Activity outside of classrooms and dorms will be monitored, ECU Police Capt. Chris Sutton said.
“We have built a database for addresses that we visited during the fall semester and if we have to return to those addresses, we won’t go all the way back to the warning phase, but we’ll continue from where we left off from the fall,” Sutton said.
“We have some correspondence we are giving out, hand-delivered, to those addresses, so the students know exactly what the expectation is. I guarantee that we will work diligently and very hard to be fair and equitable with our students and implore them to follow the guidelines we have in place, because the ultimate goal is to keep them here in the safest environment possible.”
Sutton said it is important for students to protect each other, especially for those on the verge of graduation.
“My goal is for our students, particularly those are who graduate this May, to be able to enjoy some form of in-person commencement,” he said. “For that to happen, we’re going to need every Pirate to step up and participate in what we are doing. This is an all hands on deck approach.”
Hardy and Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson said mask-wearing, social distancing and washing hands will be the mantra. ECU student health services also has partnered with ECU Physicians to provide free testing.
“We are clearly emphasizing compliance,” Mitchelson said. “We are clearly emphasizing that, and in these next few days there is a pretty solid campaign of communication to the students directly. ... I think we are much closer to a culture of compliance now than we were in August. ... My class starts a week from today and I’m just as excited as I can be to join my students on Tuesday and Thursday mornings as we learn a little bit about geography.”
Total enrollment for the semester is about 26,700, which is a combination of online and in-person students.
“We’ve had a little increase and as of this morning’s numbers, we were plus-200 compared to (last spring’s) enrollment, so that is a very good sign,” Mitchelson said. “They will be coming back to a campus that learned some valuable lessons last fall.”