UNCG coronavirus poster

A portion of a poster hung across campus at UNCG. The poster gives tips to student and employees on how to avoid the potential spread of respiratory illnesses such as cold, flu and COVID-19, the new coranovirus.

GREENSBORO — It was business as usual Monday at the city's two state universities after a week off for spring break.

But both UNCG and N.C. A&T are taking steps to keep the new coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, from reaching their campuses. In addition to putting out vials of hand sanitizer, reminding students and employees to wash their hands frequently and posting regular online updates, the two universities also are planning for more extreme scenarios.

Officials at both institutions stress that there are no reports of coronavirus on their campuses or at any other college and university in North Carolina. A&T and UNCG officials also said they were unaware of any students or employees who are quarantined at home after last week's spring break.

A&T previously announced that four students who came back to the United States in late February from a canceled study abroad program in South Korea won't be allowed to return to campus for another week.

"We're doing everything we can do to keep the campus safe," A&T spokesman Todd Simmons said Monday. 

As the virus spread to the United States in recent weeks, A&T and UNCG banned university-sponsored travel to five countries — China, Iran, Italy, South Korea and Japan — that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled as having widespread or sustained transmission of coronavirus. Both universities have asked those returning from these countries to isolate themselves for 14 days before returning to campus.

Elsewhere in North Carolina, many institutions have similar travel bans. Several, including Elon and Wake Forest universities, canceled study abroad programs.

Some universities are now clamping down on domestic travel. UNC-Chapel Hill announced last week that it is "strongly" discouraging travel to areas where state and local authorities had declared a state of emergency. That list as of Monday includes two Texas cities (Austin and San Antonio) and 12 states, including the spring break hotspot of Florida.

UNC-CH said students and employees returning to campus from these cities and states "may be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days."

UNC-Wilmington last week canceled all spring break study abroad programs in Europe. On Monday, the university announced it was suspending all non-essential travel within the United States by students and employees and all travel to states and cities under a state of emergency. 

A handful of colleges and universities, mostly on the West Coast or in New York, have canceled in-person classes for at least a week. Rice University in Houston announced Sunday that it will hold classes online after an employee contracted coronavirus. Columbia University in New York City canceled Monday's and Tuesday's classes after a member of that community went into quarantine after suspected exposure to the virus. Classes will be taught online the rest of the week.

The University of Washington was one of the first schools to cancel in-person classes. The university will complete the winter quarter with online classes through March 20. But the university's three campuses — including the dorms, dining halls, libraries and medical center — will remain open, and athletic events will continue as scheduled.

Though universities are responding differently to the coronavirus threat, UNCG's approach gives one example of how seriously higher education institutions are viewing the disease.

UNCG activated its emergency planning and response team, which exists to handle all sorts of hazards, including communicable disease. It's most commonly deployed when the campus is threatened by severe weather such as hurricanes and snowstorms.

The team has representatives from about 15 different UNCG departments such as police, emergency management, housing, transportation and student health. Team members keep in touch via a virtual emergency operations center — an online forum on which members post regular updates from their departments as well as the constant advisories from county, state and national health and emergency management officials. The team briefs the chancellor and other senior UNCG leaders at least once a week.

The team is designed "to bring the right people together to have the right conversations," said Zach Smith, UNCG's emergency management director.

When classes resumed Monday after spring break, students and employees were bound to notice extra bottles of hand sanitizer around campus, UNCG spokeswoman Eden Bloss said.

UNCG community members are getting constant reminders to wash their hands, avoid touching their faces and cover their mouths with a tissue or flexed elbow when they cough or sneeze. About 100 posters with basic health tips went up inside the student center Monday, and 100 more were distributed to academic departments and other offices around campus.

UNCG is taking other steps to cut down on germs. Campus shuttle buses are being disinfected daily. Common areas in dorms and the student recreation center are being cleaned more often. To get into the dining hall, students are swiping their own ID cards rather than handing them to the attendant.

Bloss said UNCG is asking students, faculty and staff members to be up front about potential exposure to coronavirus and take steps to keep themselves and other UNCG community members safe.

"I can understand you not wanting to be quarantined," Bloss said. "At the same time you have to think about everybody else."

The university, meanwhile, is planning for several not-so-great scenarios. UNCG has developed what Bloss called "an instructional continuity plan" — that is, preparing professors to teach classes online if UNCG cancels in-person classes. If large numbers of students are quarantined on campus, the university is making sure it can still receive fuel, food, cleaning supplies and other materials it might need.

"We're treating this as any other emergency or disaster," Smith said.

Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.​

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