Fall Semester Set to Start Aug. 10

South Building. (Photo by Grant Halverson '93)

There will be no fall break, and UNC students will not return to campus after Thanksgiving. (Photo by Grant Halverson ’93)

UNC administrators are planning to reopen the campus to students in August, with a start of fall classes on Aug. 10 — eight days earlier than originally planned — and exams finished Nov. 24, two days before Thanksgiving.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz qualified his announcement to the UNC trustees Thursday by reminding them that conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic could necessitate changes at any time.

“For right now, we’re planning on the following: We will begin a ramp-up of research activities on June 1 and work to get as close to full capacity as deemed safe, using a phased-in approach over the next several months,” Guskiewicz said. Research activities at UNC were cut back to about 25 percent capacity two months ago.

“There will be no fall break, and students will not return to campus after Thanksgiving,” he said. “On the guidance of our infectious disease and public health experts, we will start early and finish early in an effort to stay ahead of a potential second wave of the virus.” The University will observe Labor Day and University Day (Oct. 12), he said.

“Based on advice from our infectious disease and public health experts, who believe we could be facing a second wave of COVID-19 sometime late fall or early winter, we are making significant changes to our operations.”

Faculty and staff will return in a phased approach, where they will face staggered work schedules, alternating schedules, reconfigured workstations, remote work and other accommodations to limit density on campus and maximize safety.

Students participating in organized extracurricular activities such as athletics, ROTC and marching band will be invited back to campus in a similar phased approach.

“We’re asking our campus community to adhere to public health guidelines to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Guskiewicz said. “This will include following a set of community standards … that will include wearing face masks in public places, practicing physical distancing and vigilance in personal hygiene.

“Class sizes will be adjusted to allow for appropriate physical distancing. Entering and exiting buildings will occur through clearly marked one-way corridors, and time between classes will be extended to allow for necessary physical distancing going in and out of buildings, which will impact the number of courses held during typical weekdays. Students and faculty can expect to see some additional weeknight classes. I’m confident everyone will adjust to this during this hopefully one semester of changes that will be required.”

Guskiewicz said many faculty will be asked to prepare their courses for both in-person and remote instruction.

He announced a new initiative to deal with freshman students who won’t be able to get to the campus. Called Carolina Away, it is planned as an “entirely online experience for up to 1,000 new undergraduates. We expect a subgroup of outstanding students who have earned admission who will not be able to begin residential living and learning this August” — more than 200 international students who likely will not be able to gain entry to the country and domestic students who cannot get to campus or do not want to live in dorms during the virus.

“This initiative, still in development, will allow them to learn together in high-quality, digital sections of key courses in our general education curriculum, participate in small group experiences and engage in learning communities that focus on the impact of COVID-19.”

UNC will designate two residence halls as quarantine space for those who become infected with the virus or are exposed to it. Additional quarantine plans are in development, and the University plans to begin unveiling details next week of what life on campus will look like for the fall semester.

Guskiewicz stressed that “during this time we must all prepare for and accept some inconveniences and adopt the community standards that we’re building and the behaviors that will ensure a safe Carolina campus as we move into the summer months and the fall semester.”

The University issued a statement that provided additional details about reopening.

Health and safety

In coordination with federal, state and local guidance, those on campus will be asked to practice physical distancing, wash hands often, use hand sanitizer, maintain clean spaces and wear appropriate face coverings/masks — the last of which will be provided by the University for those who need them. Housekeeping staff will continue to clean office and workspaces according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and “high touch” areas like doorknobs and bathrooms will be cleaned more frequently. Individuals with COVID-19 symptoms or knowledge of exposure will be asked to seek medical care and must not report to work or class.

Instructional strategy, academic calendar and classroom space

Classrooms are being reconfigured so that small classes will meet in larger spaces and large lecture classes may be split into smaller sections, have content delivered remotely or consist of a combination of both.

Returning to the workplace

Return of staff will be phased with a focus on health and safety. Decisions about who returns to campus, and when, will be managed centrally, and supervisors will contact employees about work arrangements in the coming weeks. UNC will work with employees to balance individual needs with those of the campus.

Returning to laboratory research

While labs related to COVID-19 research have remained fully operational and much research has continued remotely, a phased approach will be used with other key research activities on campus. Labs will be allowed to reach 50 percent capacity.

Residence halls

Residence halls will operate at normal capacity — standard double-occupancy — with few exceptions, including one dorm that will be used to provide temporary housing to residential students who test positive for COVID-19 and a second that will provide temporary housing for residential students who have been exposed to the virus but do not have a confirmed diagnosis. Some double rooms will be converted to singles and held for residents with immunocompromised conditions. Student move-in will begin Aug. 3 by pre-scheduled appointment to help achieve physical distancing.

Carolina Dining Services

To help limit density, Lenoir Dining Hall and Chase Dining Hall will be open only to students with a UNC Meal Plan. New meal plan options are being developed. All other on-campus dining facilities will be open to students, faculty and staff. Seating in dining halls will be reduced to promote physical distancing, and takeout offerings will be expanded in all locations. Mobile food ordering will be installed where practical. Dining tables and chairs will be sanitized after each use, and restrooms will be cleaned hourly. Additional dining options including food trucks, meal delivery services and dedicated pick-up stations are being explored.

Student experience, sense of belonging and holistic support

UNC will create virtual summer programs for new students, encourage student organizations to re-engage, establish a regular check-in system and provide on-campus and remote advising and counseling sessions.

More information is available in a campus message posted Thursday.