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David Campos (from left), a rising junior at UNC-Chapel Hill; Austin Green, a rising junior at Elon University; and Douglas Mathis, a rising senior at High Point University; are apprehensive about returning to in-person classes in August.

Many North Carolina colleges and universities have begun moving forward with plans to reopen on adjusted schedules for fall semester.

But as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the state — especially among young people — many college students say they are feeling uneasy about the prospect of returning to campus in a few weeks.

Among the schools that have said they plan to allow students back on campus are N.C. A&T, UNCG, High Point University, Elon University, Winston-Salem State University, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State.

“I’m more concerned about going back to school due to North Carolina’s recent increase in cases,” said David Campos, a rising junior at UNC-Chapel Hill from Long Island, N.Y. “I have severe asthma that, when triggered, can lead into other health complications, and I won’t have access to my primary doctors while in N.C.”

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina on Saturday set a single-day record for new COVID-19 cases, with 2,462 reported. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths reached a new high Tuesday.

“I am relatively nervous about returning to campus in the fall,” said Douglas Mathis, a Texas native and rising senior at High Point University. “With the school’s new regulations in place, it is a matter of trusting the school to be able to handle the virus while we are on campus.”

Most of the universities in North Carolina are following schedules that would forgo fall break and end in-person instruction before Thanksgiving, with final exams being taken remotely in early December.

Many of these colleges and universities have been announcing new policies and guidelines aimed at ensuring the health and safety of faculty members, staff members and students. These include face-covering policies, which were mandated statewide by Gov. Roy Cooper a few weeks back. People will have to wear masks in classrooms and most other spaces on campus.

“My biggest concerns do not necessarily extend from the university itself, but more from fellow students who may not follow the guidelines properly,” Mathis said. “If certain students do not follow the guidelines in place, it puts all students at risk.”

University administrators also are having to reimagine what classroom instruction will look like. Because of social distancing guidelines, class sizes need to be reduced, increasing the demand for large spaces, such as lecture halls and auditoriums for classes.

“We’re not going to bring students, faculty, staff back onto a campus where we don’t believe it’s a safe environment,” UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in an interview with CBS last month. “There certainly is some risk, but we believe we’re putting in place the right measures to mitigate that risk.”

But even with the increased health and safety protocols, students worry that the potential spread of the novel coronavirus is out of the universities’ control.

“We understand the nature of the virus and how to slow down the spread more than we did in March,” said Austin Green, a Boston resident and rising junior at Elon. “But it’s a little concerning to me that all 6,700 students from around the country and the world will all be returning to campus when, if anything, conditions have worsened since we left campus.”

Campos, who is scheduled to return to UNC-CH in early August, said he is looking forward to reuniting with friends but worries about the possibility of a repeat of the spring, where schools were shut down because of the pandemic, and students were sent home mid-semester.

“My biggest concern for fall instruction is that things are going to be ‘normal’ for the first two weeks, and then UNC potentially closing campus again and sending everyone back home,” Campos said. “It’s an inconvenience to have to drive all the way from N.Y. to N.C. multiple times. In addition, I put myself at risk if I decide to fly back home, so I worry about having to constantly commute back and forth due to the uncertainties surrounding the current pandemic.”

One question on the minds of some students is how strictly the universities plan to enforce the face-covering policy around campus.

“I am kind of concerned,” Campos said about the idea of wearing a mask for the entirety of a class. “Wearing a mask for so long does hinder my ability to breathe, and to have to wear it for an hour-and-15-minute lecture, I just don’t think is going to be feasible.”

The NC Local News Intern Corps is a program of the NC Local News Workshop, funded by the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund and housed at Elon University’s School of Communications.

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