Message from Chancellor Sartarelli: Fall 2021 COVID-19 Updates from UNCW

Dear Seahawk Community: 

Earlier this summer, when we announced a COVID-19 indoor face covering requirement to begin the fall semester, we indicated that we would provide you with an update on its status by or before Sept. 17. Since then, as the campus leadership team added layers of health and safety protocols to expand pandemic protections, we used Sept. 17 as a touchstone to revisit them. 

We are encouraged by the general downward trend in the university’s positive COVID-19 cases and the upward trend in vaccinations among students, faculty and staff. We are going to keep the momentum going by maintaining our focus on efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic-related guidance in place now will remain in effect until Oct. 15, based on the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 virus and its variants.  

We will consider several factors when making the decision to alter COVID-19 guidance, including CDC, NCDHHS, and UNC System policies; local public health guidance; the level of transmission in North Carolina; and the overall vaccination rate in our state. Ideally, vaccination rates in our state will continue to increase to a large percentage of the population overall, a level that public health experts indicate would provide greater protection against COVID-19 and its variants. 

Please review the message below in its entirety; while all sections may not pertain to all individuals, essential information about the university’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 is included throughout the message. 

Indoor Face Covering Requirement Remains in Place 

The university’s indoor face covering requirement, which is based on guidance from the CDC and NCDHHS, remains in place. As a reminder: New Hanover County, where the main campus is located, has enacted a face covering mandate for all indoor public places. Key details include:

  • Wear face coverings in campus dining areas, break rooms and other places where food is consumed. Remove them to eat and then replace them while sitting and talking with others. 
  • Wear face coverings on multi-passenger vehicles such as WAVE buses, shuttles, vans and UNCW vehicles. Personal vehicles and open-air vehicles such as golf carts or gators are not included in this requirement.
  • Classrooms and other areas on campus are equipped with free, disposable face coverings.
  • Contact the Student Health Center at coronavirus@uncw.edu to request free, reusable masks.  

Face Coverings Outdoors

While UNCW does not require face coverings for general outdoor activities, they may be required or strongly recommended for large gatherings. Please see specific event information for guidance and/or signage. As a reminder, please continue to demonstrate care and respect for your fellow Seahawks and refrain from asking individuals why they are wearing a face covering if it is not required in a particular location. Their reasons may be related to confidential health information.  

Vaccination Rates, Clinics and Surveillance Testing 

Based on data gathered by Student Health, 87% of faculty and staff are vaccinated, as are 72% of residential students and 57% of off-campus students taking on-campus classes. These percentages were current as of Sept. 7, and the data will be updated periodically as the Student Health Center receives more vaccination status information from students and employees. Please visit the Data Dashboard on the Best for the Nest website for updates.  

If you have not yet submitted your status, please submit your information to coronavirus@uncw.edu. Student Health staff will be the only ones with access to individual information.  

Surveillance Testing Reminder 

As a reminder: unvaccinated residential students, faculty, staff and off-campus students taking in-person classes are required to participate in weekly surveillance testing. Students, staff and faculty who present proof of vaccination are not subject to weekly surveillance testing. 

Vaccine Clinics 

If you are not vaccinated, please take action to protect your health and the well-being of our campus and community. Only through widespread vaccination will we be able to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Free vaccinations for students, faculty, staff and community members are available on campus through the Student Health Center during normal business hours. No appointments are necessary.  

Please monitor your inboxes and Best for the Nest for additional vaccination “pop-up” sites on campus. We recently hosted Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccination clinics on campus and anticipate adding others throughout the semester. Vaccinations are also available at many locations in the community and across the state. See NCDHHS information for more details.  

COVID-19 Protocols for Campus Events and Activities  

As previously announced, the university moved events, activities and meetings not directly related to student learning to virtual formats or postponed them. Many offices, programs and units across campus host events, activities and meetings that meet this guidance. These units should work with their divisional leadership and the UNCW Health and Safety Committee, under the leadership of Student Health, to review event plans, confirm COVID-19 guidance, and prepare to manage the event to meet pandemic-related protocols. At this time, the university does not anticipate establishing an events exception committee unless conditions negatively change.  

University Travel Guidance 

In support of the university’s COVID-19 guidance, university travel will be restricted to trips/activities that are necessary to meet research and academic requirements, perform essential university business, or participate in professional development programming which requires in-person attendance. For more information and process protocol, please visit the UNCW Travel site

Update on Temporary Modality Shifts 

Faculty and instructors will continue to have flexibility to request temporary modality modifications for many COVID-related reasons for the remainder of the fall semester. The Office of the Provost will provide specific request process information in a separate message to faculty tomorrow (Sept. 14). 

Temporary Teleworking Flexibility 

Leaders and supervisors are encouraged to continue supporting staff with flexible work arrangements where possible given unit-specific business needs. This flexibility may be granted where staff members are navigating personal COVID-related impacts; however, it is understood that flexibility may not be possible in all situations depending on the specific business need of the unit and the specific duties of a position. Because COVID-related impacts such as elder care or childcare concerns may persist for some time in our community, this guidance related to temporary flexibility will remain in effect through the remainder of this semester and does NOT require a formal teleworking agreement. 

Counseling Support 

UNCW has numerous resources to assist with mental health support, work/life balance and stress management. The UNCW Counseling Center offers free services for all currently enrolled students. Located in DePaolo Hall, the center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and provides virtual counseling services as well as in-person emergency services. The Employee Assistance Program is an excellent source of emotional wellness, mental health and resilience resources for faculty and staff. 

Resources for Information  

We understand that we have shared a lot of information here, Seahawks, and yet we may have left some questions unanswered. Please see the resources below for additional assistance and guidance. We will share pandemic-related updates with you regularly and, as conditions shift, we will work together to adjust accordingly. We are a thriving community, despite the lingering effects of COVID-19, and we will continue to rise throughout the year ahead.

Sincerely yours, 

Jose V. Sartarelli 
Chancellor 

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