UNCW will temporarily return to mask wearing and surveillance testing

Brenna Flanagan, Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s Note: The Seahawk has updated its coverage on this topic. To view the update on surveillance testing from Aug.11, please click here. 

A Friday email from Chancellor Jose Sartarelli announced that students and faculty will again be required to wear masks in the campus’s public spaces and on-campus residents who are unvaccinated will be required to attend weekly surveillance testing.

The mask mandate will go into effect on Aug. 2 and will be reevaluated on or by Sept. 17. Masks will be required in all campus spaces unless in a private office or residence hall room. This mandate includes campus dining spaces and public transportation, but will not include outdoor spaces.

Since the mandate will be in place for the beginning of the semester, masks will be required during on-campus student move-in and at convocation.

Unvaccinated students living on campus will be required to attend a weekly COVID-19 test. Details on the testing schedule and sign-up have not been released yet, but students can most likely expect a similar experience to last year’s surveillance testing. The Student Health Center keeps a record of people who were vaccinated on campus, but others can provide proof of vaccination via email to be exempt from testing.

UNCW’s mandate comes after a rise in infections across the country, with almost all new cases being attributed to the delta variant, the most contagious strain of the COVID-19 virus. The CDC announced on July 27 that all people, including the vaccinated, should resume mask-wearing in public indoor spaces if in an area of “substantial” or “high” transmission rates. A New Hanover County statement on July 29 read that reported cases more than doubled in the last week, from 119 cases to 334. Only 47% of the county’s population is vaccinated.

The announcement was based in part on the CDC’s report that vaccinated people could still get “breakthrough infections” of the delta variant and may spread the virus to others just as readily as unvaccinated people.

Breakthrough infections are infrequent and symptoms are usually mild, more akin to a cold. A U.K. study found that the Pfizer vaccine is 96% effective against COVID-19 hospitalization. However, with the recent guidance from the CDC, many institutions are opting for a return to masks and surveillance testing, with some, including North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, going so far as to require vaccination for its employees.

The rise in infections is mostly affecting the unvaccinated, who account for 97% of hospitalizations and 99% of deaths due to COVID-19. New Hanover County is considered a “very high-risk county” for unvaccinated people.

The Student Health Center will continue to provide free vaccinations to students and staff, with more details coming as the school year approaches. If you have questions about the new mandate or want to report a vaccination, you can email [email protected].