Montreat College library, pictured in September 2013. Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

Colleges and universities across North Carolina are dealing with the spread of coronavirus through extended spring breaks and plans for alternative modes of instruction in the weeks ahead.

The UNC system announced this week that most of its classes, “where possible and practical,” will move to an online-only format for the rest of the semester.

COVID-19 NC news

Classes will begin in the new format on March 23 and will “last indefinitely,” according to an official announcement.

“University leadership will determine which classes, such as those with labs, will continue to require in-person instruction and attendance,” the UNC system posted.

“Outside events and gatherings of 100 or more people will be canceled or postponed unless otherwise authorized by a chancellor or provost. University-sponsored in-state travel to gatherings of 100 or more people is suspended, and all travel outside the state is suspended unless otherwise authorized by a chancellor or provost.”

Individual universities within the state-owned system may have adopted special provisions or had to deal with unique circumstances. Fayetteville State, for instance, announced that its planned spring open campus would not take place as scheduled.

Private colleges

The state is also home to many private colleges, each with its own governance that may look to the state for guidance but generally is not obligated to follow it. Some schools adopted models similar to those of the state university system. Others adopted more of a wait-and-see approach. A few have made no announcements on their websites about any special provisions related to the coronavirus.

In Alamance County, Elon University announced Thursday that it will move its classes online for two weeks, with classes expected to return to campus on April 6.

“Campus offices and services will remain open, and operations will continue normally,” the university posted.

“Most campus events and activities with more than 50 people will be canceled from March 16 through April 6, and there could be changes to events scheduled after that date. All nonessential university travel has been suspended until further notice.”

In Mecklenburg County, Davidson College President Carol Quillen said a member of the school’s community “exhibited some symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and meets some of the criteria for testing,” the school posted Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Quillen had announced that the college would teach classes remotely and ask students who were able to do so to return home. Quillen acknowledged the confusion the situation has caused.

“Seniors, I know this is impossibly disappointing for you and that you have many questions, including questions about commencement,” Quillen posted on Friday.

“No decision has been made here. I can promise you, though, that in the future a time will come when we can and will celebrate. I don’t know when this will be, but I will work with you to figure that out. For now, I need you to help us safeguard the health of everyone by taking the steps above.”

Some schools are not ready to move online.

Catawba College in Salisbury will continue classes as normal but has changed its dining hall.

The dining hall has converted to disposable, one-time-use plates, utensils, and cups, Catawba posted.

Staffing issues have complicated matters at Catawba.

“Due to limited staffing, Environmental Services will not be able to increase the frequency of cleaning,” Catawba posted.

“However, they will provide classrooms with disinfectant surface wipes for students, faculty and staff to use as needed. In addition, as part of their normal cleaning schedule, Environmental Services will sanitize surfaces (such as handrails, doorknobs/handles, etc.) while cleaning.”

The school is “aggressively crafting contingency plans” if it feels the need to move classes online. It canceled or postponed events happening through April 12.

For some schools, the situation changed dramatically in recent days. Montreat College in Buncombe County initially announced Wednesday that it planned to remain open: “Montreat College is continuing normal operations, even as we plan for a possibility that we could be affected on campus at some point in the future,” the post noted.

Late Thursday, Montreat updated its position, announcing that spring break would be extended by a week, with some conversion to online instruction anticipated when classes resumed March 23.

For links to information about how most universities and colleges in North Carolina are handling coronavirus, as well as links to all public school district information sites, see the Carolina Public Press resource guide to coronavirus in North Carolina.

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