UNC Asheville works through rising omicron cases


Photo by Joshua Staley Rocky the Bulldog welcomes students to Chestnut Hall

Joshua Staley, [email protected], News writer

In response to the omicron variant, UNC Asheville implemented a week of remote learning for students returning for the spring 2022 semester. 

“The delay in students returning to campus has reduced the demand for our services, and in some ways has reduced the stress for this first week,” said Jay Cutspec, the director of Student Health and Counseling. 

The university requires every residential student to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours prior to arriving on campus, but the lack of testing available led to added stress on students. 

“Students who need a test want to have it done immediately and conveniently, but unfortunately the demand for testing has impeded these goals. This has created stress for some students in finding a test since this is a hassle and not something many students want to do,” Cutspec said.

Although being able to produce a negative COVID test hampers their ability to return to campus, a lot of students said they view remote learning as an extension of their winter break.

“I think students are enjoying an initial week of remote learning. I have only heard positive comments from students about this,” Cutspec said.

Senior Jessica Ford said she approves of the campus’s policy to enact remote learning, especially when it helps students filter back to campus at a more relaxed and much safer place.

“Coming back to school after a long break is always difficult, but the remote learning has made the transition much easier and safer,” she said. 

Although she does approve of the week of remote learning, Ford said it might not be long enough.

“There is a record-breaking spike in COVID cases not only in Buncombe County, but across the country. It’s likely that professors will not allow hybrid classes for those who have to quarantine this semester and that the university will follow a business-as-usual approach,” she said.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the omicron strain of COVID spreads more easily than the original virus, which Ford said she thinks may cause the school to shut down and fully revert back to online classes.

On the other hand, Cutspec said the university seems capable of handling decisions on in-person versus remote learning based on COVID-19 issues if problems arise, and classes will most likely continue in the classroom setting for the remainder of the semester.

“I think the university is now equipped and ready to handle a move to an online environment when necessary, but it is unlikely that classes will shut down due to COVID,” Cutspec said. 

The director said the school has done an adequate job of handling the virus and containing the number of cases, especially in comparison to other universities.

“The university has developed a solid plan for managing COVID and we continue to modify this plan and the information as the science changes. Many of the same protocols from 2021 will remain in place,” Cutspec said.

UNCA’s campus website offers several services for students in regards to COVID, including information about on-campus vaccine and booster clinics, tips on what to do if you’re feeling symptoms and details on pick up sites for masks. There is also a symptoms and exposure flow chart available for both faculty and students that details the steps needed to take in the event of a COVID exposure.

During a student town hall meeting on Jan. 4, Cutspec said testing will be conducted at the Health and Counseling Center, with both rapid tests and PCR tests available for students experiencing symptoms. 

“We will be offering surveillance testing in Highsmith room 125, similar to what we were doing last year. I’ve reserved those rooms for the months of January and February,” he said.

Cutspec mentioned they would expand the designated schedule for surveillance testing and the schedule would be sent out when students start to arrive on campus.

Director of Student Development Robert Straub echoed Cutspec’s support for the university’s handling of the omicron variant.

“From my point of view, the administration is doing everything in their power to create a normal environment while at the same time keeping everyone as safe as possible. At this moment, the world is ever changing and I believe that our administration is keeping up as well or better than most,” he said.

UNCA’s COVID-19 reporting webpage confirmed 39 positive cases among employees and students as of last Friday. This number represents the cumulative number of positive cases involving individuals who have been on campus since Jan. 1.

“We all just need to recognize that our time with COVID is stressful and we just need to be resilient. I worry about it, but I don’t let it control my life. Be smart to keep yourself and those around you safe.” Straub said.