On this special episode for the first day of UNC classes, host Evely Forte chats with University Desk reporters Heidi Perez-Moreno and Rachel Crumpler about what re-entry for students will look like this spring semester.
They also talk about the University’s new COVID-testing program and technology being used for its implementation.
Sports editor Jared McMasters previews the spring season for UNC sports teams.
Episode hosted by Evely Forte and produced by Praveena Somasundaram. Supervising producers are University Desk Editor Maddie Ellis, Digital Managing Editor Will Melfi and Editor-in-Chief Anna Pogarcic.
Transcript of episode below by William Christensen:
Bob Blouin: That’s kind of where we were back in March, April, May of last year when that decision was made not to stand up a robust testing platform. And there was also the worry about giving people false security. I think if I were to acknowledge where we made perhaps our biggest error, it was in that.
Evely Forte: I’m Evely Forte from The Daily Tar Heel, and this is Heel Talk. Hey everyone, welcome to the special FDOC episode. Today, we’re talking about what re-entry for students will look like this spring semester. We’ll discuss the University’s new COVID testing program, and technology being used for its facilitation. We’re also previewing the UNC spring sports season.
Rachel Crumpler: Hi, I’m Rachel Crumpler, I’m a senior writer on the University desk at The Daily Tar Heel.
Heidi Pérez-Moreno: And hi, my name is Heidi Pérez-Moreno, and I am a staff writer on the University desk.
EF: So classes start today, officially, and students have been moving in since last week. But we know that not all students looking to return to Chapel Hill have done so, since the return to in-person classes was delayed and the move-in period was extended. Heidi, what steps do those students now have to take?
HP: For those who aren't living in Chapel Hill yet, students would need to test at least five days prior to arriving onto campus, wherever they are. They would need to upload a negative test result onto ConnectCarolina student requirements dashboard.
EF: Okay, and so just to be clear, this is a requirement that’s being made of all students looking to return to the Triangle Area, not just those looking to live in a residence hall, for example.
HP: Yes, this is for all students essentially living in the Orange County area.
EF: Okay. And how about when students arrive to Chapel Hill. What do the testing requirements look like for those types of students at that point?
HP: Yeah so students essentially, once they return to campus, they would need to go to a UNC testing site and essentially test the same day that they return. This is called re-entry testing, and they have three different sites to choose from: the CURRENT Artspace on Franklin street, the Student Union and the Rams Head Recreation Center. These spaces, while the Student Union is open, some of these spaces will not be open until the 19th. And so, if a student cannot test the same day that they return, simply what they must do is self-isolate wherever they are until they can get tested.
EF: Got it. Okay, so just to sum up a bit of what we’ve said so far, those requirements are in place for re-entry to campus, and for those students looking to return to either campus or the Chapel Hill area. But now, I want to kind of shift gears a little bit and talk about the new testing program the University is implementing for the course of the spring semester. So first, Rachel, what would the general process for testing look like for students on campus this spring semester?
RC: Yeah, so the University has implemented the Carolina Together testing program which will require undergraduate and graduate students to participate in regular, asymptomatic evaluation testing throughout the semester. There will be three testing centers that students can visit to get tested.
EF: And how about the frequency required of students to be tested this semester. Did either of you find that out from your reporting?
HP: Yes. So, the frequency at which students need to test during the semester does vary. So if a student is taking classes on campus, living in a residence hall, Granville Towers, or is off-campus with 10 or more people, they will need to be tested twice a week. If, however, a student is living off-campus in the Chapel Hill or Carrboro area, even if they are fully remote and aren’t accessing campus, they will need to be tested once a week. Graduate, professional, post-doctoral students who will be accessing campus must test once a week. However, there is an exception for graduate students in programs where daily symptoms are monitored. Faculty and staff who will be on campus do not have to test, as well as graduate students not on campus. For them, they can test on a voluntary basis but it will not be required for them.
RC: And if I could add to that, I spoke with Dr. Barzin who explained to me why the University made the decision to make testing voluntary for faculty and staff. He said that in their background research, they found that across the country, this population of faculty and staff was not having these high rates of infectivity like students were, so that’s why they’re making the rate of testing higher for students that will be in the high-density locations or dorms and on-campus housing, and Granville and stuff.
EF: Okay, got it. And Rachel, I know from your reporting, you looked into the new technology that the University is rolling out this semester to kind of facilitate this testing program. Could you talk a bit about that and what that will look like, and how it will be used?
RC: Yeah, so a primary component of the Carolina Together testing program is Hall Pass, which is a mobile-friendly web-based application that campus members will need to use to make appointments to go to the testing centers. This Hall Pass application also sends notifications about when test results are ready for students to view, as well as when it’s time to get their next test.
EF: So do either of you know, from your reporting, what the repercussions would look like for those students or campus community members who don’t follow these new guidelines being put in place this semester?
RC: So participating in the testing program is part of the COVID-19 Community Standards that returning students were required to acknowledge as part of their enrollment. So they must follow this testing and repeated or continued noncompliance with the testing program may result in administrative and/or disciplinary action, such as removal from campus housing, restricted on-campus access, and even dis-enrollment from the University. Hall Pass is really intended to facilitate compliance in the University’s mandatory testing program, and in fact, it will send notifications to alert you if you miss a testing window.
EF: And I guess just to wrap things up here, the final question I was curious to hear about was whether either of you know what impact the University is hoping this testing program will have for this upcoming semester.
HP: So there are several administrators who feel this program is essentially a way to overturn and fix what happened in the fall. Of course, as we all know, in the fall there was the abrupt switch from in-person to remote classes that resulted in students having to move back home. Administrators hope that this program will prevent that from happening and keep cases low. Provost Bob Blouin in a Faculty Executive Council meeting last month noted that this program could correct the “biggest error” from the fall with this testing program.
EF: Yeah let’s definitely hope these programs and protocol really meet those goals and help campus stay afloat as far as keeping COVID cases low this semester are concerned. That’s something that I would hope as a student and I’m sure you two would feel the same. Well thank you both so much from being on Heel Talk today and for sharing what you have learned through your reporting. I really appreciate it.
HP: Thank you so much for having me.
RC: I was glad to be here.
EF: Next, we’re going to talk about what sports will look like for the University this semester. But first, a word from our sponsor.
Today’s podcast is sponsored by Tar Heel Verses, and the UNC English Department. Here’s Jonesy Wilbanks, a sophomore from Richmond, Virginia, reading her poem about motherhood:
Jonesy Wilbanks: How To Cry
My mom talks about how she used to cry
When she took me to the pediatrician.
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The shrieking of newborn babies
Longing for the comfort of their mothers
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Staring at her little girl
Who was now grown up,
My mother sat one last time on
The maroon chair in the left corner,
EF: Hey everyone, welcome back. Now, returning to sports, I have Jared with me to talk about what the season will look like.
Jared McMasters: Hey, I’m Jared McMasters, I’m The Daily Tar Heel sports editor right now, and thank you for having me on today, Evely.
EF: Thanks for being here today Jared. We are so excited to talk all things sports given the start of the spring semester, and that’s really where I wanted to start with you. The University decided to delay the start of in-person classes this semester, as I’m sure you’re aware, and I was just curious, did that in any way impact athletics as far as their practice or games go this season?
JM: Yeah so there are still a few unannounced spring schedules for spring sports that we’re still waiting to hear on, but other than that the decision to go online for the first three weeks hasn’t had a ton of impact. We kind of saw that in the fall also with, you know, there were a few basketball players who even took to Twitter to sort of question “Why are we being treated differently and being told that it’s okay to stay on campus and practice and everything while these students are doing classes online?” I think one of the interesting things to me is that the golf and tennis teams they didn't have their, normally they’re the year round kind of sports, but they didn’t really do the fall portion of their schedules and over the winter, but it looks like now, this spring, they’re going to start having games and matches and stuff. So I think it’s interesting that they’re deciding that now it’s kind of all of a sudden safe to resume playing.
EF: So that brings up a good point, Jared. Have these athletes been practicing in all this time that we’ve been away from campus and even now, last week, as students started to slowly but surely move into on-campus residence halls?
JM: Yeah absolutely, especially the winter sport athletes that are sort of in the middle of their seasons right now, and I think at some points we have kind of seen that take its toll with, in particular, the basketball teams and wrestling. You know, the women’s basketball team, although they’ve only announced that they have had one issue with COVID protocols on their end, they have had several games postponed or straight-up cancelled. It was just announced on Thursday the 14th that the UVA women’s basketball team was going to suspend their season because they didn’t feel safe and didn’t feel right going through the safety protocols and everything, and the Duke women’s team did so several weeks ago also, so we’re sort of starting to see how playing during this pandemic and everything, even on a winter break when people are at home, is really taking its toll on these programs.
EF: Yeah, and as these games get rescheduled and set for this season, a question that I know is on my mind and the minds of a lot of my friends at school is, are fans going to be allowed to attend any of these games in person this coming semester?
JM: So a lot of that is kind of intertwined with what the state does in terms of allowing indoor gatherings and things like that. As of right now, there are no fans at basketball games, even in the massive Smith Center, other than, I think, at the Syracuse game a few days ago there were three or four dozen close relatives and friends of players and team staff and stuff. So at most you’re going to see just those who are close contacts of people because I think they’re really just trying to limit as much exposure as possible. In outdoor stadiums the rule that allowed fans to attend football games was that these outdoor stadiums had to have more than 10,000 seats, and the soccer stadium and things like that aren’t going to have that many available seats to really allow fans unless Roy Cooper and North Carolina adjust their guidelines and everything going forward.
EF: Well that’s super interesting. I was actually going to ask you if we had any sense, as far as the discrepancy between fans being allowed to attend some of these football games at the end of the fall semester and, as you mentioned, the possibility of not being able to attend these basketball games in the Dean Dome. That’s really interesting. I didn’t know that. Something else I wanted to ask you, Jared. You know, the pandemic first set in last spring semester, which is just wild to think that we’re approaching a year here of this new reality. But, last spring semester, the spring sports season was cut short when the pandemic first set in, so I was curious to know, are there any breakout athletes that we either haven’t heard about or haven’t seen that are expected to make an impact this upcoming season?
JM: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s tons, but just to name a few, people that I’m excited to see and everything. Austin Love is a pitcher on the baseball team. They’re one of the spring sports that haven’t announced their schedule or anything yet, but he’s a redshirt junior on the team and in 2019, obviously the 2020 season was cut short and everything, but in 2019 he was sort of the team’s ace out of the bullpen. I think he led the team in wins and ERA, and he’s someone who I think has a potential for a pitching staff who kinda struggled in 2020 in the abbreviated season. He has the potential to really shine with Joey Lancellotti and some other guys. Even in the shortened season I think when they played Dallas Baptist, a really good team, he only allowed two hits and struck out 9 or 10 guys in about 5 or 6 innings, so he’s someone who has a lot of potential. I think there’s a duo on the softball team of young stars in Bri Stubbs and Destiny Middleton. They were true first years during this shortened pandemic season last year. I think they only played about 24 games, but both of them hit in the mid .300s. They’re fast players, they both had double-digit steals, they both were high school standouts obviously, winning defensive player of the year awards there and stuff like that, so I think they have the potential to sort of blow up as a dynamic duo in the future. And the one other person I think who is in line for maybe a breakout campaign would be Carly Peck, a sophomore on the volleyball team. Destiny Cox, who was sort of the star of the team in the fall, she actually announced in November that she was going to transfer to Texas A&M, which was a major blow for the team, and Carly Peck was already a huge contributor to the team, but now that Destiny Cox is gone, she’s going to be filling in a lot of that role, and I think there’s a real potential for her to maybe stand out for the team this spring as they continue their 2020-2021 season.
EF: So just to wrap things up here Jared, how are athletes and coaches feeling about the semester and the season? We hear a lot about fans and student reactions, but I’m curious to know, do we even know how athletes and coaches are feeling about this season as it gets started?
JM: Yeah it’s tough, I think especially for the athletes, to know what their true feelings are. I wrote that story back in the fall semester about how, kind of like I mentioned earlier with you, you know the basketball players sort of took to Twitter to question the NCAA’s model of amateurism when they have to justify keeping these people on campus to practice when it isn’t safe for the same other students to be in in-person classes and everything. But as far as coaches, I mean they’ve been vocal in press conferences and things like that. I know Roy Williams has said recently that he doesn’t necessarily want to quit this season. He thinks it should be played but, obviously, everyone should take the virus very seriously, he’s been very adamant about that. But we’ve also seen coaches at UNC, like Mike Fox with the baseball team and the gymnastics coach also, leave within the span of this pandemic, who were sort of staples over decades at this school. I think it’s worth noting that this pandemic obviously is going to play a factor in decisions like that going forward.
EF: Yeah, well those were all of the questions I wanted to ask you, Jared. I really appreciate your time in kind of previewing this spring season for us all. But yeah, thank you so much for being on the show today.
JM: Yeah absolutely, and if you want to learn more about those spring sports schedules that I sort of mentioned, assistant sports editor PJ Morales recently wrote an article outlining all of these recently announced schedules, you can check that out at dailytarheel.com and get an outline of what those schedules will look like there.
EF: Amazing, everyone definitely should go check that out. Thank you so much Jared. I really appreciate, again, your time and your insight.
JM: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate being on.
EF: This podcast episode is hosted by Evely Forte and produced by Praveena Somasundaram. Supervising producers are University desk editor Maddie Ellis, Digital Managing editor Will Melfi, and editor-in-chief Anna Pogarcic. So if you enjoyed today’s episode, please consider subscribing, rating, and reviewing the episode, and sharing it with someone you think would enjoy it too. I’ll see you next time.
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