Message from Chancellor Sartarelli: Spring Commencement, COVID-19 Updates, and Looking Ahead to the Summer and Fall  

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Dear Campus Community: 

UNCW's spring semester is off to a strong start thanks to all of you – students, faculty and staff – and your ongoing commitment to upholding our health and safety protocols. Last month’s COVID-19 return testing went well; our online, hybrid and in-person classes are running smoothly; and the surveillance testing program launched this month is well underway. Despite nearly a year of unexpected and difficult circumstances, we have created a meaningful and rewarding Seahawk experience together. 

To help us continue moving forward as a campus community, have several COVID-19-related updates to share with you. Please see the information below for more details. 

Spring 2021 Commencement Update 

UNCW has decided to celebrate the Class of 2021’s spring commencement with special virtual ceremonies the weekend of May 8. We had hoped to hold UNCW’s spring ceremonies in person, but ongoing pandemic conditions prompted us to reconsider those plans. Although the vaccination rollout is gaining momentum in North Carolina and across the nation, current projections indicate that a significant portion of the population may not be fully vaccinated by early May. Trask Coliseum, our largest arena, doesn’t include enough space for our graduates and their families and friends to safely gather while also meeting COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines. We held the university’s first-ever virtual commencement in December, and the ceremonies went very well. We look forward to building on that model this spring. More information will be available on thCommencement website as May approaches. Spring 2021 graduates will receive updates to their UNCW email as they become available. 

Surveillance Testing Update 

UNCW launched its COVID-19 surveillance testing program Feb. 8, and through Friday, Feb. 12, the university administered 2,698 tests. Of those, only 4 were positive. Importantly, the testing offered us the opportunity to move the individuals who tested positive into isolation and to quarantine their close contacts – efforts that will help slow the spread of the virus on campus and in our community. See more COVID-19 case information on UNCW’s data dashboard. 

As previously announced, UNCW planned to conduct surveillance testing in both Warwick Center and the MAC Gym in the Student Recreation Center (off Walton Drive). We opened the MAC Gym location first and, after this first week of testing, we have determined that this space is ample enough to accommodate our overall surveillance testing program at this time. We will be able to preserve Warwick Center for other uses as needed. 

As a friendly reminder, surveillance testing complements our other COVID-19 health and safety protocols, so the 3Ws, physical spacing of furniture in campus buildings, limits on the size of gatherings, and extensive campus cleaning regimens will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Please wear face coverings indoors and outdoors. North Carolina also is currently under a stay-at-home order in effect between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily. 

More about Vaccines 

Please make sure you closely review the vaccination update that the Student Health Center shared last week. According to guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, university instructional and support staff who are “in-person at their place of work” will be eligible for Group 3 (Frontline and Essential Workers) vaccination projected to start on March 10, depending on the availability of vaccines. Under a staggered distribution plan, Group 3 vaccinations will begin Feb. 24 for anyone working in child care or PreK-12 settings.  

Under current guidance, Group 4 includes adults at high risk for exposure and increased risk of severe illness and essential workers not yet vaccinated. Group 5 includes everyone who wants a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination (most students will be included in this group unless they qualify in previous groups). You can learn more about each one on the NCDHHS website. 

When it is your turn for vaccination, I encourage you to participate. In many ways, the health of our campus community and the future of the UNCW experience is in your hands. Based on the conversations I have had with campus community members lately, many of you are eager to participate once it is your turn, but some of you have understandable concerns. Please take a moment to visit the NCDHHS website for specific information about the vaccine’s safety, development, availability and so forth.   

Now, and once you are vaccinated, please continue to follow UNCW’s health and safety protocols when on campus and in the community. The 3Ws will remain an important part of our efforts to curtail the spread of the virus for the foreseeable future. 

If you are among the hundreds of employees working remotely, please continue doing so even after completing the vaccination process. Remember: it takes at least two weeks after receiving the final dosage for immunity to reach its highest potential. In many cases, faculty and staff may be eligible for vaccination before our students, including those living on campus. Our remote working plans are part of an overall effort to de-densify UNCW's buildings and grounds for the safety of students living on campus and faculty and staff teaching and working on campus.   

Counseling Services 

The pandemic has affected our day-to-day lives for nearly a year now. No wonder we all feel tired and drained at times. Please remember that you are not alone. Support services for students are available through the University Counseling Center and for faculty and staff through the Employee Assistance Program. 

A Look Ahead 

I know many of you want to know what the summer sessions and fall semester will be like. We are planning for a “normal” summer at this time, recognizing that UNCW typically offers quite a bit of online academic programming in the summer. We also are planning for a more “normal” fall to include more sections of in-person and hybrid classes; more students living on campus; more in-person sports, events and activities; more online and hybrid camps, as well as a possible return to in-person youth programs; and, well, just more Seahawk fun.  

Of course, no one knows what route the pandemic may yet take. We will move forward with the hope that the summer sessions and fall semester unfold as we envision and hope, but if that doesn’t happenwe will adjust our plans to continue fulfilling our mission. UNCW students, faculty and staff have proven repeatedly that our campus community has what it takes to keep soaring. We are Seahawks after all, and that’s what we do. 

Sincerely yours, 

Jose V. Sartarelli