Arkansas colleges respond to UNC-Chapel Hill switching fall plans after COVID-19 outbreak

“It is very hard to stop. There are some that have compared universities to Petri dishes or cruise ships.”

LITTLE ROCK, Ark — Notre Dame cancelled in-person classes on Tuesday, Aug. 18, for two weeks due to rapid spread of the coronavirus. That news comes after UNC-Chapel Hill sent students back home due to major outbreaks. 

While many colleges around Arkansas gear up to start classes, we asked them if this news is changing their plans.

RELATED: VERIFY: How will Arkansas track COVID-19 cases in out-of-state students?

“It was surprising because it’s the worst case scenario, but it also was not surprising,” Erin Finzer, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said. 

“I think we are obviously going to be cautious and mindful and monitor the situations at universities around the country,” Bill Smith, Chief Communications Officer at Arkansas State University, said. 

On the surface, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Arkansas State look like two completely different institutions. 

UA Little Rock has more students commuting to campus. 

“We’re expecting about 1,000 students in our residential halls,” Finzer said. 

While Arkansas State has people from all over the world walking their streets.

“Thirteen-thousand is what our enrollment has run the past few years. About 5,500 of those are in our major online program,” Smith said. 

But no matter the size, both institutions are aware the virus doesn’t discriminate. 

“It is very hard to stop. There are some that have compared universities to Petri dishes or cruise ships,” Finzer said. 

“We don’t by any means don’t think there will be cases, there will be cases and it would be foolish to think there aren’t, but how we manage those cases once we identify them is the key,” Dr. Shane Speights, site dean for NYITCOM at Arkansas State University. 

At Arkansas State, that management comes from the New York Institute of Technology medical school in the heart of their campus, which according to Smith, will be conducting contact tracing this fall.

RELATED: Contact tracing key in making sure COVID doesn’t spread in Arkansas schools

“It’s an integral part of what we’ve designed for allowing our students to come back safely to campus,” he said. 

In the capital city, UA Little Rock is working with UAMS and the Department of Health for their contact tracing, while Finzer said administration is looking at their small campus population as a resource. 

“We have enough rooms where each student will be able to have a room to his or herself,” she said. 

Both universities have mask policies in place, signs around campus reminding everyone to socially distance, and have measured out classrooms properly. 

At the end of the day, they understand there’s only so much they can control, but they’re confident in their plans as they rely on their students to do the right thing.

“We have to feel safe in order to learn,” Finzer said. 

“We’re really going to depend on the pack and it sounds a little Red Wolfey, but it’s true,” Smith said. 

UA Little Rock starts classes Monday, Aug. 24 and Arkansas State starts classes Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Both campuses are working closely with the Department of Health on a regular basis. 

If an outbreak like the one at UNC were to happen at either of these campuses, they would contact ADH immediately on how to respond.