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Catawba College starts classes on campus Monday, later than usual

SALISBURY – Catawba College will begin classes on Monday after a delayed start to the beginning of its second semester.

Students have been arriving throughout January, and most on-campus residential students are back. Catawba Vice President Drew Davis said some students never left campus and others returned in late December. Sports teams have also started practicing as the college gradually built the on-campus population back up.

“In my mind, the return is happening,” Davis said.

Now, Davis said, the college is not concerned about having to close its doors because of COVID-19. Davis said the college believes the controlled environment on campus is one of the safest places for students to be. Only two Catawba students who contracted COVID-19 had infections traced to campus spread.

Davis said he is optimistic the college will be able to remain open for the foreseeable future.

“I feel very strongly we have to do everything we can do to get through the end of February,” Davis said, noting ramping up vaccinations and getting past the post-holiday spike put the college in a position where it needs to approach the pandemic differently than its plans in the fall.

Still, everyone on campus will be tested for COVID-19 to identify active cases, an option the college began exploring last year. Davis said the college has to contend with external and internal factors when it approaches keeping the campus open. Cases and positivity rates are up, and one concern is that Novant Rowan Medical Center is running out of space for COVID-19 patients. Internally, the college has to consider its own quarantine spaces and capacity and if the pandemic results in departments that cannot provide services.

The later-than-usual start to the semester required some other changes to the college’s calendar. Spring break has been eliminated and graduation was delayed by a week, but students already spent the better part of two months on holiday break.

The college has only occasionally updated its COVID-19 data dashboard since it sent students home after Thanksgiving, but the last update on Dec. 9 showed a total of 41 positive cases since the college began classes in the fall.

Dean of Students Jared Tice said most employees have been reporting in during the break, and a small group of employees tested positive during the break, but it was not enough to be a detriment to campus operations.

Tice said the college has come to an understanding that keeping maintenance and grounds staff along with other essential workers safe is important to keeping the college open for in-person classes.

“If our maintenance staff or our grounds crew, those staff were to test positive, that would have a real impact on our ability to deliver an on-campus Catawba experience,” Tice said. “We’ve put a lot of time and thought into that.”

Employees are also being given N-95 masks because they are some of the most protective face coverings.

Tice said the college is concerned with sustained growth, but that was a concern before the pandemic that the college needs to do its job to retain and grow the student population.

A small number of Catawba students with existing health conditions sought online learning accommodations. Nationally, fewer students went to college in the fall, but Tice said spring recruitment for Catawba was successful.

“We’re tracking very strongly with historic commitments to the college over the last few years,” he said. “We are done in applications. I think students are being cautious but optimistic about going to college in the fall.”

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