Catawba brings students back to campus with COVID-19 preparations in place

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2020

By Carl Blankenship

SALISBURY — On the heels of local public schools resuming in-person classes, Catawba College did the same on Tuesday.

Dean of Students Jared Tice said students had already arrived to move in to on-campus housing and take part in weekend welcome activities at the school. The college began classes with mandated social distancing, mask requirements and enhanced cleaning protocols.

Tice said the school is actively collecting data on campus COVID-19 infections to provide to the public, including quarantines, active infections and recoveries. Tice said that data set should be posted on the college’s website within a week.

The campus is currently in its “green” phase. If the state of COVID-19 spread worsens, the school will move through color-coded states that indicate the severity of factors like active cases and higher use of quarantine living spaces. The college is prepared to take on other measures like renting hotel rooms and moving classes online as necessary.

Students will not return to in-person classes after Thanksgiving. Anticipating a possible spike in cases in the fall, the college opted to move the remainder of the fall semester online. Tice said that plan has not changed.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shut down in-person classes after spikes in campus infections, and other large institutions are seeing increases as well. Tice said the advantage of a smaller institution is it already has small classes and large venues that allows safer distances.

The first students arrived on Aug. 3 and were resident assistants and leadership. The school conducted phased move-ins to limit the number of students coming in at one time. Students also were screened for COVID-19 before moving in.

If a student contracts COVID-19, the college will ask the student to return home to quarantine if they live locally, and that student’s classes will be accommodated online. But Tice said not not all students will be able to return home because Catawba draws from from 29 states and 19 countries. That’s where designated isolation and quarantine spaces will come in. Meals will be delivered to students who are quarantined.

In the meantime, the school plans to host events to help students socialize safely, including a silent disco. Tice said Catawba follows rules and has a good sense of community and caring for one another, but he is worried that a small number of students socializing unsafely off campus could have a major impact on the campus. Tice said it is unnatural to ask young adults to have to make the changes to socializing, but the college is asking students to exercise responsibility.

Freshman Gabby Blabon, a basketball player who intends to major in exercise science, said she saw rooms being sanitized between classes and felt safe on campus during her first day, though things were a bit strange.

Blabon said she would be disappointed if in-person classes ended or her season was canceled due to COVID-19. A Rowan County native, her last season at West Rowan High School and the end of her senior year of high school was cut short in March.

Blabon says she always wanted to attend Catawba, but felt odd to see everyone sitting so far away from each other and wearing masks. She worked in a group in her freshman seminar class, and students had to communicate via messaging on their laptops.

“It was online group work, pretty much,” Blabon said.

She attended convocation with her team, where they had to wear masks and sit 6 feet apart, but said it was still a good experience.

Blabon lives on campus. Everyone wore masks during move-in, but what sticks out to her about living at Catawba is having to do everything on her own. Despite the circumstances, she is still enjoying college.

“I love it,” Blabon said.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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