Holiday break begins this Thursday, with the resumption of classes on Tuesday. I extend my warmest gratitude for your efforts in ensuring a successful spring semester, doing what is necessary to stay safe, keeping others safe, and taking care of yourselves as we maneuver through such unprecedented times.
We are hopeful that the end to this pandemic is in sight, but we’re not out of the woods yet. We still must adhere to our Catamounts Care Community Standards by wearing a mask, practice physical distancing and avoiding mass gatherings.
We will receive our first large allocations of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 one-shot vaccines over the next several weeks so that all of our students will have an opportunity to be vaccinated before the end of the spring semester. Vaccine events will be held for students on April 7-9. Please look for more information on those vaccine events coming soon.
Continuing our vaccination efforts for the entire Western North Carolina region and adhering to the Catamounts Care Community Standards is our best chance to continue moving forward with in-person commencement this spring and to resume as close to normal operations this fall, which includes in-person classes, fall sports, campus events and activities, community engagement, and a return to full occupancy residential living.
I am so very proud of how you, our Catamounts, have come together and managed the pandemic’s relentless consequences over the last year and I thank you for all you have done to support WCU and our community at large’s efforts during these trying times.
Please remain safe and keep others safe during the break and take time for yourselves to re-energize and finish strong!
Kelli R. Brown
Dear WCU community,
It has been more than a year since COVID-19 transformed our university and our world. Although initially there was much uncertainty about how to navigate a global pandemic, I have been so impressed by the way our students, faculty and staff demonstrated their strength, resilience and creativity. Despite the challenges we faced, WCU continued to exceed all expectations. There is so much to reflect upon - so much to process, so much to understand, and so much change to absorb. Yet, this is also a time to look ahead with hope for the future.
During the past year, there has been no documented transmission of COVID-19 in our classrooms, and that is a direct result of our public health protocols and strong adherence to our Catamounts Care Community Standards. Additionally, vaccinations become available to all members of the WCU community on April 1, which will allow all of our students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated over the next few months.
With that understanding and as we look ahead, our top priority is to resume a fully in-person residential program for the upcoming fall semester. Residential, in-person instruction and support services are cornerstones of the WCU mission. We want students, faculty and staff fully integrated into campus life so that teaching and learning can return to our classrooms, studios and labs. We also want students engaging in as full a residential life program as possible, taking part in extracurricular and co-curricular activities that allow them to learn and build community.
To accomplish this goal, we are committed to bringing all WCU students, faculty and staff back to campus for the fall 2021 semester to fully engage our vibrant learning community. In order to best position ourselves to meet this goal, the time for planning is now. To facilitate the planning process and based upon current trends and the guidance currently available to us from the UNC System, you should expect the following:
I know that many of you have continued to work on campus throughout the pandemic and I want you to know that your commitment has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Thank you for your dedicated service. And thank you to those who have diligently worked remotely to ensure our university remained open and operations continued.
As we plan for our future, I encourage grace, flexibility, patience and empathy for overall wellbeing as we take steps to fully integrate everyone back to campus. Additional guidance around workforce planning (to include scheduling and leave guidance) will be provided by Human Resources within the next few weeks.
Please be assured that we will continue to closely monitor conditions and continue to set our policies based on guidance issued by the CDC, the University of North Carolina System, and the State of North Carolina.
I am confident that WCU can safely return to the residential, in-person education that has long defined and elevated the campus experience for our students. Thank you for your collaboration and dedication as we pursue this goal.
Kelli R. Brown
The UNC System Office has provided additional return to work guidance related to the ongoing pandemic. This guidance will be incorporated into the Return to Work booklet and the FAQs on the Employee Resources webpage. Please be aware that face shields are not an acceptable substitute for a cloth face covering.
Last week, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) provided additional information on priority phase Group 3 and interim essential industry employer guidance in preparation to activate Group 3 of the state’s vaccine prioritization framework.
As a reminder, North Carolina vaccination efforts remain focused on Groups 1 and 2 in the priority listing. We have not been informed of when Group 3 will be activated.
Group 3, in the prioritization framework, targets the vaccination of frontline essential workers. In short, frontline essential workers are considered those who work in one of eight essential sectors (including education, which incorporates child care, K-12, and higher education) and are required to work on-site in person.
Individuals who work in one of the eight essential sectors (such as education) but are not required to work on-site will be eligible for vaccination as part of Group 4.
At WCU, we consider faculty and staff who normally interact with students; other faculty and staff; and/or the local, regional, state, national or international community to be frontline essential workers. Examples of frontline essential workers include, but are not necessarily limited to:
Given the myriad of tasks completed by individual Western Carolina University faculty and staff, the University does not plan to designate specific faculty or staff members, or specific job categories as ‘front line’ beyond that outlined above. Currently, there is no requirement for verification of employment or of frontline essential worker status on the employer or employee’s part as part of the vaccine registration process.
When NCDHHS activates Group 3 for vaccination, we will notify the WCU campus community and provide any additional information at that time.
Dear WCU Campus Community,
Like you, we have had many questions about the vaccine administration plans in North Carolina. We have been working with the UNC System to gain clarity about where and when vaccines will be available and who falls into the various prioritization groups. Yesterday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) updated their vaccine prioritization framework. We are using that update to provide a FAQ for our faculty, staff, and students. See more information
It is important to note that the planning, distribution, and administration of COVID-19 is incredibly complex and is evolving on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. With that in mind, please remember that the information we provide can change rapidly. We will continue to work with the UNC System and NCDHHS to gain clarity and will provide updates to the campus as needed.
Chancellor Kelli R. Brown
This week, senior campus leaders and I have reviewed state and regional COVID-19 activity with UNC System leadership, public health officials, and local hospital representatives in anticipation of the beginning of the spring semester. Due to record COVID-19 cases, strain on critical health care resources related to COVID-19 hospitalizations, and a projected peak in cases in Western North Carolina within the next two to three weeks, we have made the decision to adjust our spring operations with the health of our campus and surrounding community as our guiding principle.
A message from Chancellor Brown and an update for COVID-19 vaccines, testing, reporting and spring operations and procedures.
COVID-19 continues to grip our state and nation. Infection rates are at all-time highs
statewide as are hospitalizations. Many of us and our fellow North Carolinians are
suffering. Our campus community will see the impact of the surges in COVID-19. In
the fall, we had no reported transmission of COVID-19 in the classroom, but we MUST
NOT let up on our diligence of mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing,
which includes avoiding unauthorized mass gatherings. In fact, it will be more important
than ever that all of us adhere strictly to our principles of Catamounts Care.
While vaccines are beginning to become available, the distribution and administration across the State is an incredibly complex process and supplies remain very low. WCU is working with Jackson County Department of Public Health and Harris Regional Hospital on ways we can partner to ensure that all in our community can be vaccinated. WCU has applied to become a vaccine provider and we are awaiting approval of our application. With the help of the UNC Collaboratory, WCU will receive 3 ultra-cold freezer storage units, two large units and one portable unit. This will allow us to store over 114,000 vials of vaccine. These freezer units should begin arriving in late January and early/mid-February.
Until then, we ask for your patience and grace amid the vaccine rollout. Jackson County and Harris Regional Hospital, as well as other regional health departments and hospitals, are prioritizing the vaccination of the elderly and front line healthcare workers. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is working to clarify the role of higher education faculty and staff in the vaccine prioritization framework. And we will almost certainly see ongoing shortages of vaccine supply, which may mean that even individuals who qualify for Phase 1A or 1B vaccination will experience delays on receiving shots. While everyone will eventually have an opportunity to receive a vaccination, the timeline may be delayed or lengthened.
We have added a page on WCU’s website to provide information on vaccines. The site will be updated as information becomes available. I have also charged a task force to develop our campus prioritization framework for vaccine distribution at WCU once our application is approved and we receive vaccine supply.
At this time, we expect to begin the Spring semester on January 25th as scheduled. However, Academic Affairs leadership are continuously monitoring conditions and we will issue additional guidance in the next few days. Spring 2021 Operations and Procedures
You can help the Spring semester get off to a safer start by taking advantage of the free COVID surveillance testing for faculty and staff that our partners at Harris Regional Hospital will be conducting on January 20th and January 21st. Information will be forthcoming for faculty and staff at Biltmore Park. The deadline to register for this free testing is January 15th. Learn More
Western Carolina University’s COVID-19 dashboard will resume its weekday updates, beginning midday today (Monday, Jan. 11). It has been revised to include additional information. By default, the dashboard shows spring data (collected starting Jan. 1). Dashboard users also can view fall/winter data, in addition to spring, using the filters at the top of the dashboard. A new element of the dashboard shows cumulative cases, and of those, how many are currently active. The dashboard can be found at info.wcu.edu/covidreporting.
For the latest information on spring 2021 operations and changes to campus operations related to the ongoing pandemic, please visit the spring operations website.
If an employee has tested positive or been diagnosed with COVID-19, exhibits any coronavirus symptoms (other than symptoms related to a pre-existing medical diagnosis unrelated to COVID-19), is awaiting COVID-19 test results, or has been confirmed as a 'close contact' exposure, the new protocols should be followed.
Revised COVID-19 Special Faculty and Staff Work and Leave Provisions went into effect on Jan. 1, and will remain in place through March 31 or until further revised or rescinded.
All WCU students residing on campus in the residence halls are expected to take a COVID-19 test within 3 to 5 days of their scheduled move-in date and receive a negative test result.
Students should submit their test results to Residential Living before returning to campus for the Spring 2021 term. If a student does not submit a negative test result, for a test taken 3 to 5 days before their move in, they will not be permitted to return to the residence halls and access to University services will be denied. Residential Living will disable CatCard access to residence halls and meal plans until students have successfully submitted their negative test results. Students that violate this policy will be held accountable pursuant to the Code of Student Conduct and consistent with COVID-19 related violations.
If your test result is positive, you CANNOT return to the residence halls.
Follow the instructions of your test provider and c
ontact Residential Living to reschedule your move-in date.
If your test result is negative, complete the Spring 2021 test report submission form
including uploading your test result documentation.
Residential Living will clear you to return to the residence halls (e.g., activate your
CatCard, etc.) and email your final confirmation of move-in time to your Catamount email.
Residential Living is implementing the entrance testing requirement for the residence halls to help conserve the limited on-campus quarantine and isolation facilities at the start of the term. As part of our commitment to keeping our campus community healthy and well, we strongly encourage all students and employees to test in their local area before returning to campus in the spring. Local Public Health Departments, pharmacies, primary care medical provider, and individual insurance companies can provide specific information.
For faculty and staff, information will be forthcoming about WCU sponsored testing options similar to the options offered in November and December. As part of our commitment to keeping our campus community healthy and well, we strongly encourage all students and employees to test in their local area before returning to campus in the spring. Local Public Health Departments, pharmacies, primary care medical provider, and individual insurance companies can provide specific information.
Either test will be acceptable.
Negative test result documentation should be obtained 3-5 days before the student’s scheduled move-in date.
As in the 2020 fall semester, WCU Health Services will offer no-cost surveillance testing to students who make an appointment at the start of spring 2021 classes and throughout the semester.
This entrance testing policy also applies to student athletes living on campus.
Local Public Health Departments, pharmacies, primary care medical provider, and individual insurance companies can provide specific information about pricing and insurance coverage.
Communication will come directly from Residential Living to students’ Catamount email accounts regarding the date and time to return to campus.
By providing test results to Residential Living, students are providing that information as a student record which are subject to confidentiality and privacy policies.
Residential Living is prepared to accommodate move-in dates. Please contact them at 828-227-7303.
Today (Wednesday 11/25) will be the last day for daily COVID dashboard updates in the fall. The dashboard will be updated weekly on the following Fridays: Dec. 4, Dec. 11, and Dec. 18.
Spring daily updates will resume on Monday, Jan. 11.
As we continue to see increases across our state and region in COVID-19 infections, we strongly encourage all faculty, staff, and students to continue diligent adherence to the Catamounts Care community standards going into the fall/winter holiday season. Wear a face covering. Practice physical distancing. Wash hands frequently. Stay away from large gatherings. This will be especially important as we enter Thanksgiving break and the winter holiday season. While we all look forward to seeing friends and family this time of year, you should carefully consider your preparations and personal circumstances to lessen the risk. Let’s all show our Catamount compassion and do everything we can to limit the spread of this dangerous disease that continues to wreak havoc in our communities. Now is not the time to let down our guard.
Beginning the week of Nov. 16, WCU will begin offering free COVID-19 surveillance testing for faculty, staff, and students in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. See below for more information:
Who: All current WCU employees are eligible. Unfortunately, we cannot cover dependents in the surveillance testing.
When: Wednesday, Nov. 18, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Thursday, Nov. 19, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Harris Regional Hospital at 63 Healthcare Drive (this is the former WNC Internal Medicine Building located at the first left after turning in to the main Harris Regional campus entrance)
How: Faculty and staff interested in exit testing MUST preregister before 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, by contacting one of the Harris Hospital representatives below and provide the following information:
Cindy Whitlock: 828.586.7398 (leave message for callback if necessary)
Meg Balamut: 828.586.7100 (leave message for callback if necessary) or email at Megan.Balamut@westcare.org
When: Monday, Nov. 16, through Friday, Nov. 20, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Madison Hall Yellow Tent
How: Schedule appointment through the Patient Portal at healthservices.wcu.edu.
Who: All current faculty, staff, and students at Biltmore Park. Unfortunately, we cannot cover dependents in the surveillance testing.
When: Wednesday, Nov. 18, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Where: MAHEC mobile testing site at WCU Biltmore Park Offices, 28 Schenck Parkway, Asheville, NC, 28803
How: No preregistration required, but all those requesting tests must provide the following on site:
Western Carolina University and the Jackson County Department of Public Health have identified a cluster of 17 active COVID-19 cases involving WCU students residing in Harrill Hall. A cluster is defined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as a minimum of five cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period and plausible epidemiologic linkage between cases. Please read this message in its entirety for important information.
Western Carolina University and public health authorities will not identify any individual patients, and we will not provide information that may compromise their confidentiality. While these steps are outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), it is also a matter of personal safety because individuals can become targeted, threatened or harassed should this information be shared.
“We expected there to be cases related to our campus as more than 9,000 students returned for residential in-person instruction this fall,” said Kelli R. Brown, WCU chancellor. “We have extensive protocols in place and will continue to execute our quarantine and isolation procedures.”
University personnel are working in conjunction with the Jackson County Department of Public Health to identify individuals who may be close contacts. Persons who have been in close contact have been instructed to quarantine and will be provided with testing during their time of isolation. A close contact is defined as someone who has been within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.
“Public health is a shared responsibility – and it is one that we take seriously,” Brown said. “We’ve implemented a series of standards including a mask mandate, lowering classroom density, extensive PPE and cleaning procedures and many other protocols through our Catamounts Care initiative. Additionally, we have erected outdoor tents throughout campus for student, faculty and staff use. We continue to evaluate conditions that may influence our ability to deliver residential operations.”
WCU is prepared for many possible scenarios if local conditions warrant, including a change of instructional modalities, and is strongly encouraging the WCU campus community to continue embracing the Catamounts Care prevention strategies – avoiding mass gatherings, wearing face coverings, practice physical distancing, etc. – for a successful semester.
WCU is reporting COVID-19 cases on campus at info.wcu.edu/COVIDreporting.
After today, the university will share information about COVID-19 clusters exclusively on the WCU Coronavirus website and on the university social media handles. Today’s message will be our only use of the Emergency Notification system to report clusters. This communications strategy in no way diminishes the university’s sense of urgency in ensuring that this information is shared in a timely, transparent and accessible fashion. The Emergency Notification system is meant to communicate the most critical and urgent information for the safety of the campus, and the university is following best practices in its use.
WCU is taking all reasonable precautions on its campus and in the community to best promote the health and safety of the campus community. The university is working closely with Jackson County Public Health officials to ensure that proper notifications are taking place.
It is important that students, faculty and staff, whether on campus or off, continue to monitor their own health and take appropriate physical distancing measures. This is vital to slowing the spread of the virus and protecting the most vulnerable in our community.
Additional safety measures include (consistent with CDC Guidelines):
There is community spread of COVID-19 and the numbers of individuals affected by the virus will continue to grow. Please monitor the NC Department of Health and Human Services and the Jackson County Department of Public Health for regular updates. Also please frequently check WCU’s dedicated coronavirus webpage.
COVID-19 dashboard updated to provide more detailed information.
The newly updated WCU COVID-19 dashboard includes additional information about testing, positivity rates, isolation and quarantine and to provide a more in-depth look at how the pandemic is affecting the campus community.
The initial dashboard was rolled out on Aug. 7, and since then more collaboration with offices on campus and with the UNC System office has occurred to define and access more information about WCU’s COVID activity. The changes make for a more robust, easily understood snapshot of our data.
In addition to a daily count for new positive cases and a cumulative count of cases going back to July 1, the updated dashboard includes a weekly count of new confirmed positive cases, information about the number of tests administered and a weekly positivity rate. The revamped dashboard now includes cases involving subcontractors (in addition to employees and students). The site also has a section providing information about the number of isolation or quarantine spaces in use.
The dashboard can be found at info.wcu.edu/covidreporting.
This page will be updated with the latest information on the COVID-19 pandemic on an as needed basis. For the latest information about Western Carolina University's fall operations and procedures, please visit go.wcu.edu/fall2020