UNCW announces all unvaccinated in-person students must participate in surveillance testing, change from previous guidance

Brenna Flanagan, Editor-in-Chief

UNCW announced on Tuesday that all unvaccinated students who live on campus or attend face-to-face classes, along with unvaccinated faculty and staff members, must complete weekly surveillance testing starting Aug. 23. This was a change from previous university guidelines that only required residential students to submit to surveillance testing. The announcement came as an emailed message from Chancellor Jose Sartarelli amid university efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and preserve a typical fall semester.

Vaccinated people are exempt from surveillance testing, as well as those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days. These groups can submit proof of vaccination or a positive COVID-19 test to the Student Health Center. According to the announcement, UNCW students, staff and faculty will receive an email on Aug. 11 where they can input their vaccination information for input into the Student Health Center’s records.

It is unclear how the university plans to track or discipline those that do not attend surveillance testing, only offering a vague statement that some action will be taken, but could include “loss of campus housing for residential students or loss of access to the UNCW network for face-to-face students and faculty/staff.”

Testing will take place Monday through Thursday but unlike last year’s testing, students will not have to reserve a time online and instead can drop in from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Testing will take place in the Student Recreation Center MAC Gym and Warwick Ballroom 4.

UNCW’s mandate came 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 rise in infections is still 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.

UNCW will reevaluate its mask mandate and surveillance testing program on or before Sept. 17. Based on CDCNC DHHS and UNC System guidance along with case and vaccination rates, the university will decide to continue the current procedures, modify them or drop them.

The Student Health Center will provide the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine through Aug. 20. After that date, the university will offer vaccine clinics at various points in the semester according to the announcement.