According to an email sent by Chancellor Charon Gaber on March 18, the fall 2021 semester will look a lot more like its 2019 analog than 2020. The announcement came five days before the one-year mark since UNC Charlotte and all other UNC System universities moved their classes online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The University plans for in-person classes to resume at pre-pandemic levels, residence halls to be at full occupancy, employees to return to their offices, spectators to be allowed at athletic events and all campus services–including dining and recreation–to be offered in person.
"The rates of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to drop in the county and the state," explained Gaber in her Thursday announcement. "Additionally, the vaccine is becoming available to North Carolinians at an even quicker pace than originally anticipated. It is expected that every person in the state who wants a vaccine will be eligible to receive one by May 1."
According to Provost Joan Lorden, however, the semester is likely to include testing, contact tracing and mask-wearing. Returning to normalcy is contingent on the assumptions that students get vaccinated, infection rates stay low, people continue wearing masks and the University continues testing and tracing.
UNC Charlotte faculty and student employees were eligible for vaccinations beginning March 3 as part of Group 3, and students with pre-existing health conditions are now eligible for inoculation in Group 4. Students who live in on-campus dormitories will be able to get vaccinations beginning April 7. All other students will be eligible in Group 5, which will begin by May 1 in accordance with President Biden's plan. The University plans to launch a survey in April to gauge how many community members have been inoculated.
Provost Lorden said that even with vaccines, the University is not prepared to say that they will change the mask requirement in classrooms, which are expected to be at full capacity.
"I think masks will be the norm generally, not just at the University," said Lorden in an interview with the Niner Times. "I think for a while until we're really sure that all of this is under control and until we're comfortable about the levels of vaccinations, mask-wearing is going to be an important public health measure that we will want to continue. I know it's a drag, but it really is one of the best things to do."
Wastewater and random mitigation testing will also continue at the same levels.
Conversations with faculty surrounding the fall semester began back in February, although they were reportedly not involved in the decision-making process. On March 11, Chancellor Gaber and Provost Lorden held a town hall for faculty to explain the return to face-to-face instruction. Provost Lorden also sent out an email on March 15 alerting faculty that the University was planning for 70% in-person instruction in the fall.
“I don't remember ever being consulted in either of these meetings about whether this change should happen,” a professor who wishes to remain anonymous told the Niner Times. “We were just told that it was happening.”
All employees are expected to return to work on July 6, says the Niner Nation Cares website–with or without a vaccine.
However, Lorden told the Niner Times, "We do recognize that there are some people who won't be able to come back, so we have said to the department chairs that we need to think strategically about how they address the needs of people who can't be face-to-face."