Warren Wilson, Montreat colleges prepare for navigating semester during COVID-19 uptick

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Warren Wilson students and families follow the school's mask policy for residents and visitors when moving about campus.

Warren Wilson and Montreat College keep a detailed list of COVID-19 policies and procedures for the upcoming academic year based on the previous year's guidelines and protocols.

"Because of our success at stopping outbreaks last year, we feel pretty confident that we will continue to be able to operate in-person," said Mary Bates, the Warren Wilson associate director of public relations. 

So far, Montreat College has had 13 confirmed COVID-19 student cases this semester, with one currently active case. While the college has zero currently active employee cases, there have been four in the fall semester so far. 

"If things get shut down, we will abide by local state and federal guidelines," said Ashley Bond, the associate director for marketing and communications and special events coordinator at Montreat College. "And we will pivot to virtual learning."

According to Bates, Warren Wilson had only two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past year, both occurring in the second semester. Prior to the start of this academic year, Warren Wilson required students to be vaccinated unless students had a religious or health exemption. Unvaccinated students had to provide a negative PCR COVID-19 test to be allowed onto campus. 

Warren Wilson President Lynn Morton said in a statement that the campus community proved throughout the past year significant capability in being able to keep everyone safe. 

"We share a common dedication to social responsibility at the college and last year, our campus community showed that we can keep each other healthy and safe through personal discipline, accountability and thoughtful policies," Morton said. 

Although classes have returned to in-person learning, Bond said Montreat has a good model to base virtual learning on from the previous year. The adult and graduate studies program typically takes place entirely online, regardless of COVID-19, according to Bond. 

"Of course we do have virtual options for students who are in quarantine or other reasons that they are not able to attend the class in-person," Bond said. 

Bates credits the size and location of Warren Wilson with remaining open throughout the past year. Since the college is relatively small and situated in a somewhat remote area of the county, keeping students secluded presents an easy task. 

Last year, Warren Wilson provided students with the option of hybrid classes, both online and in-person. Having had this system in place for the past year, Bates said the college feels readily equipped to deal with another wave of the virus should it come to another shutdown. 

"We do have the capability to go online if we absolutely had to but we're hopeful that we won't," she said. 

Similar to the county mask mandate, students and employees at both colleges must wear masks while indoors but are permitted to go without masks when outside. Montreat encourages students and staff to eat meals outdoors whenever possible. 

Physical distancing while indoors is not required but encouraged by Warren Wilson campus officials. 

Student-athletes at Warren Wilson must follow the actively evolving NCAA guidelines. Unvaccinated student-athletes must undergo surveillance testing as well as additional testing prior to competition. 

According to the Warren Wilson guidelines, if a residential student does in fact test positive, remain asymptomatic or is unvaccinated with documented exposure through contact tracing, the college will maintain quarantine or isolation space. Montreat also provides quarantine space off-campus to students who have tested positive for the virus. 

"We will continue to adapt to changing circumstances, and I am confident that we will navigate this upcoming academic year successfully," Morton said.