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UNC's Attempt For An In-Person Fall Doesn't Go As Planned


Students across the country are continuing to move into dorms at some colleges, but it is the reverse at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Students are moving out because of a coronavirus outbreak. NPR's Elissa Nadworny was on campus this weekend.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: If you weren't paying attention to the way the stuff was traveling, you'd think it was a typical beginning of the semester. There were moving carts and dollies filled with furry rugs, mirrors and minifridges. But all that stuff, it's now leaving the dorms and heading to the cars in the parking lot.

TARA CONNER: My roommate had already moved out. So it was just me. I packed up with - probably in a five-hour period.

NADWORNY: Tara Conner, a first year, says even just a few weeks on campus was worth it.

CONNER: It was a freshman summer camp, pretty much.

NADWORNY: Dad Roger isn't so convinced.

ROGER: Would've been nice if they'd planned it that way, though, instead of us loading up two vehicles (laughter).

NADWORNY: Here's what happened. UNC brought students back, attempting an in-person fall. Then there were clusters of coronavirus outbreaks on campus. Classes went online, and students were asked to move out. For Van Adamson Thompson, he's heading home with an entire bin of toilet paper.

VAN ADAMSON THOMPSON: 'Cause I was expecting to be here longer than three weeks.

NADWORNY: He's a freshman, too. And in those first few weeks, his mom Natalie says she got used to him being gone.

NATALIE: But we changed his room around and everything (laughter).

NADWORNY: As Van is packing up, his suite-mate Myles Solomon joins our chat.

MYLES SOLOMON: Once it happened - like, the clusters and stuff...

ADAMSON THOMPSON: We locked ourselves, basically, in the dorm (laughter).

SOLOMON: ...Yeah, we locked ourselves in the dorm, so.

NADWORNY: It wasn't that they were afraid of getting coronavirus...

SOLOMON: But I didn't want to feel like I was the reason everyone was getting sent home.

NADWORNY: Myles, Van and their other two suite-mates passed the time watching basketball, yelling at the TV and listening to music.

SOLOMON: And Drake came out with that new song.

ADAMSON THOMPSON: Yeah, we were listening to Drake.

SOLOMON: So we were listening to that.

NADWORNY: They say they're terrible singers, but they sang out loud with each other anyways. Nothing like a crisis to bring people together. After a long goodbye to his newfound friends...

ADAMSON THOMPSON: Safe travels back. See y'all.

NADWORNY: ...Van climbed into the family's pickup truck. Myles got a COVID test before leaving campus, and while UNC-Chapel Hill has started doing widespread testing of freshmen, many are leaving campus without knowing if they've been exposed. The question now is what happens if any of those thousands of departing students take the virus home?

Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, Chapel Hill, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.
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